Ford Motor Co.'s drive to reach consumers online is paying off.
In an interview with Advertising Age at the Detroit Auto Show, Brian Kelley, president of Ford's ConsumerConnect global e-commerce group, said the company's combination of Web sites and other online ventures sent an estimated half-million leads to its dealers in calendar 2000. Of those, 60% were in the U.S.
Ford sold more than 50,000 vehicles to consumers who shopped online first and provided their personal information, Mr. Kelley said. "The important thing about it is it's improving the sales' process because it saves customers time and gives them more information."
The site that receives the most traffic is ford.com, which expanded to 140 countries last year.
Casey Johnson, a Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealer in Fort Dodge, Iowa, said his store usually gets at least one customer daily specifying the vehicle and payment sought and how they want to be contacted - by phone, fax or e-mail. Online leads "are very active now," he said.
Such leads also seem to be very productive. Mr. Johnson said that 30% of his dealership's sales are now generated this way.
Last month, the automaker began testing an online sales venture with its dealers in California and on the East Coast. The new site, FordDirect.com http://www.forddirect.com, is jointly owned by Ford and the dealers, and creates a closer link between Ford, its dealers and potential buyers.
Mr. Kelley oversees Ford's online efforts for prospects, dealers and owners. Those efforts include alliances with Yahoo! and an investment in Microsoft Corp.'s automotive site Carpoint.
Ford and Yahoo! announced their launch of personalized online services for Ford owners in January 1999. Ford owners can volunteer personal data to be contacted for, among other things, service reminders, recall info and vacation planning. Mr. Kelley said the alliance has resulted in 150,000 owners signing up for the service. "We're very happy with that " because people chose to do it."
Dawn McGreevey, an analyst with consultancy Gomez Advisors, said Ford could benefit from the Yahoo! relationship if it "refines the offerings in tandem with building awareness" for the owners' packages. Thus far, she said, consumers haven't flocked to these kinds of online services, which target car owners by brand in the hopes of building long-term relationships with consumers.
"People aren't necessarily seeing the benefits of these kinds of services," she explained. Ms. McGreevey predicted participation will increase as the efforts of marketers mature.
Copyright January 2001, Crain Communications Inc.