The automaker last week outlined plans to set up the interactive communications system to link Ford corporate offices in the U.S. and Canada with factories, regional executives and 6,000 dealerships.
The most obvious use of the system, dubbed the Fordstar Network, will be to train dealer sales and service employees.
An instructor will be able to present materials from one location to students across the country; they will then be able to pose questions and take quizzes by using individual units consisting of a microphone and keypad.
Money saved on travel will eventually pay for the system, said Tom Wagner, VP-customer communications and satisfaction. He also sees payoffs in the marketing area.
"The Fordstar Network will revolutionize how we transmit and collect data between the company and our dealers," Mr. Wagner said.
For example, a dealer, using the satellite system, could call up the history of a car and its owner's relationship to Ford when the vehicle comes in for service. The dealership would know whether the owner had previously expressed concerns about the product or service, based on owner surveys.
"Today our marketing techniques are mass market. We ought to change that to go more one-on-one," Mr. Wagner said.
"One of my priorities," he explained, "is to develop a customer information database that will enable us to know where they're at in the ownership cycle and their history of owning Ford products ... and use that to develop a one-on-one relationship with our customers that we don't have today."
Ray Jones, who has a Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Hurst, Texas, said more customer information will help better target potential buyers.
"If a guy trades every three years, we're not going to inundate him with shotgun mailings that will end up in the trash," Mr. Jones said. "When it's important to communicate with him, we will."
Another possible use would be airing infomercials in showrooms.
To participate, an average dealer will need to invest between $5,000 and $6,000 for a portable computer, VCR and TV sets. Ford will pay for satellite receivers in the dealerships, with the installations expected to be completed next year.