Ford Retail’s direct dealing internet programme, designed to “move further and faster by creating a dedicated online dealership brand” could account for one in 10 of the group’s sales within ten years, according to Steve Hood, managing director of FordOnline.co.uk.
Detailed consumer research among internet customers and the success of a pilot programme have driven Ford Retail’s “dedicated alternative channel” which, according to Hood, provides: “an extremely convenient, haggle and hassle-free way of buying a vehicle, all from the comfort of your own home or while on a break from work.”
One of the “final barriers to online vehicle selling” claimed the FordOnline executive, was the finding that 37% of internet shoppers are prepared to buy cars and vans without test drives.
Hood emphasised that FordOnline.co.uk, which uses 12 strategically-placed English dealerships as processing centres for internet orders out of a network of 50 outlets, “complements our existing brand.”
But he admitted that “there are times when FordOnline has been offering prices £250 to £500 below conventional dealership prices. It is a very dynamic and volatile business model which prices towards volume and group dealership needs at the time. It will be competitive but our dealers, and independent counterparts can be hyper competitive.”
Hood added: “If one of our dealerships is dealing aggressively to get to their bonus figure then it could support that outlet. It simply varies the way our dealers trade. Our first tranche of stock comes from the group pipeline and then we look into the national Ford supply base.”
The direct-selling operation is based in the Birmingham Fort Dunlop complex overlooking the M6 and employs 14 computer and phone staff.
The conspicuous absence of Scottish and Welsh internet-related delivery centres is due to the “partially historical” factor of Ford Retail not being represented in either country.
On the anticipated share to be taken by FordOnline Hood responded: “I would estimate and anticipate our internet business could move to 10% of group business in three to five years. Other sites take you back to salesmen and ours is more of a genuine online experience.”
Ford Retail sold 70,000 new and used cars last year and Hood said the division had been surprised that 59% of FordOnline users will spend between £10,000 and £20,000 on a broad spread of models, not just “relatively aggressively priced lower-spec cars.”