A plan introduced by Ford to stop a relentless decline in its network has been hailed a success and has seen it stabilise at a total of 552 outlets.
A three-year plan to expand the network will come to a close in April 2010 giving Ford the largest in Britain.
Project Revival began in the middle of 2007, with the first of the new retailers appointed before the turn of the year.
By the end of 2008, 24 had been appointed.
To-date appointments total 39, with Nova Newport, Shropshire, the latest. Another five are “in progress” and will be open early in 2010.
2007 and 2008 saw the Ford network grow for the first time in 30 years.
In 1980 Ford had 823 retail dealers operating 1,221 centres.
The lowest point came in 2007 with a total network of 537, including 198 retail centres.
As Project Revival comes to an end Ford of Britain market representation manager Stuart West said the network is now stable for the first time in years.
“If we hadn’t stopped the decline our network coverage would have suffered more than it had already to the detriment of customer service, for sales and unacceptable travelling times for our service customers to reach a Ford dealer, West said.
“The retail dealers are our secret weapon, giving us reach into the more rural areas where establishing a main dealer would not make financial sense.
"They complement the main dealer, offering great customer service and reach the areas main dealers struggle to.”
The stability and coverage of the network now means 95% of the population are within 30 minutes driving time of a Ford dealer.
The revival plan identified 50 points in the UK, judged on customer drive times, sales data and competitor analysis taking into account Ford’s market share and volume aspirations.
Typically they are located in towns with populations of around 25,000.
A prospectus was developed in 2007 and boosted by ride and drive events, press advertising and discussions with existing dealers to consider expansion plans.
Dealers are judged on sales performance and financial stability in the last three years.
The profile of the new retail dealers included multi-franchises, start-ups and those looking to replace their existing franchise, plus independents.
“A typical Ford Retail dealer sells between an average of 100 units each year, mainly retail, but some will exploit contacts with local SMEs,” West said.
The level of investment per site is typically £25,000 – 30,000 for signage, flooring, lighting and other refurbishment.
Has the recession made a difference?
“There has not been a reduction in interest. For every opportunity we have two or three enquiries. In fact the Ford brand and its product offering has made us more attractive during the downturn as dealers look for business confidence and security,” West said.
He sees the network stable at 550 outlets for the “foreseeable future”.