INTERACTIVE;FORD TO BUILD DEALER TRAFFIC IN CYBERSPACE

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Ford Motor Co. is stepping up efforts to get its dealers involved in a corporate Web site development program.

Ford, one of the only automakers with such a program, expects thousands of dealers to sign up in the next year. More than 300 of the carmaker's 5,000 Lincoln-Mercury and Ford dealers have signed up since January, said Larry Dale, marketing specialist in Ford Automotive Operations' customer satisfaction and communications department.

Dealers can choose from four products, ranging from the most basic to a site that includes more information and interactivity.

While SoftAd, Mill Valley, Calif., developed both Ford's site (http://www.ford.com) and the dealer package, a dealer's ad agency can add its own customized content.

Ford dealer Jerry Chase and his Framingham, Mass., dealership bought a level-four package. He's already leased a car to a Florida customer moving to the area.

SOME DEALERS STILL DUBIOUS

Although the level-one program costs less than $100, Lincoln-Mercury dealer John Cater in Yorkville, N.Y., says he won't sign up, citing his rural location and the fact shoppers can access information about his dealership via a locator on Ford's corporate site.

Rural dealers will increasingly lose sales to larger-market dealers because more car buyers are willing to travel to get the best price, which they can find on the Web, said Martin Rood, a former Nissan dealer who's now director of DealerNet (http://www.dealernet.com), a Seattle-based unit of Reynolds & Reynolds, Dayton, Ohio.

DealerNet offers comparative data from 1,000 independent dealers representing all 43 automakers.

General Motors Corp.'s Oldsmobile, whose site launched last week (http://www.oldsmobile.com), also offers comparative data.

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