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Ford goes direct

Ford will at next week's Birmingham motor show unveil a plan to offer its whole range over the internet at a discount.

Ian McAllister, Ford of Britain chairman, said: “Customers will get factory-fresh cars within 10 days from a name they can trust, delivered through a national dealer network. It's an offer the existing dotcoms just can't match.” Ford will announce its direct sales while heavily promoting price cuts of up to 13%. The twin moves are designed to bolster dealer morale by directing all deliveries through the franchised network.

It has taken Ford more than a year to develop its Fordjourney.com internet sales site. The company has had to create entirely new systems for handling customers and their money direct, rather than through dealers. Ford will aim to deliver a car through its new internet sales operation within 10 days. Customers will place their orders direct with Ford while delivery, part-exchange and aftersales will be handled by dealers.

The UK market leader is being much bolder than Vauxhall which created special editions for internet sales. Ford internet stock will be built up gradually with only volume retail sales cars available at launch.

Mr McAllister said Ford had to move into internet sales or risk being left behind if the market “took off”. But he was unsure how successful the venture would be.

“We don't know how many people will buy from the internet,” he said. “I don't think it will be many – the vast majority will browse the site and then order at the dealers. But in this market, you have to be in or you're out.”

Cars ordered over the internet will be only 1% or 2% cheaper, much less than early speculation suggested. “I don't want it to become a discount channel,” he said. “Airlines offer a pound or two off for booking a ticket over the internet. We will be aiming for something similar.”

Ford believes Fordjourney.com will attract customers who want the convenience of browsing at all hours and those still wary of entering dealer showrooms. Mr McAllister said there was still evidence of women being unhappy with their treatment in dealerships and he thought many would prefer internet sales.

Customers will be asked to place a £200, non-returnable, deposit with the order and can nominate a supplying dealer. Otherwise, the system will default to their local postcode dealer.

Mr McAllister attacked dotcom companies which took “up to 30%” with orders. “Carbusters.com, the Consumers' Association site, even charges £10 for a quote,” he said. “I wish my dealers could.”

Dealers will be notified by fax within 24 hours of the order being placed and can then contact customers to discuss any potential part exchange, accessory or aftersales business. The Ford site will not be equipped to handle part exchange but it will offer finance schemes through Ford Credit.

Dealers will also be paid a handling charge, based on a percentage of list price, for the delivery. Mr McAllister said it would “not be as much as if they had sold the car themselves” but most dealers had welcomed the opportunity to attract incremental business.

The UK launch comes at the same time as the company is unveiling FordDirect.com, a online partnership with its 4,200 dealers in the US.

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