Ford Motor Co. is giving control of its DealerConnection websites to FordDirect.com, the five year-old joint venture between the auto maker and its dealers to sell cars online.

The transition may mean good news for Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealers. While DealerConnection has been an auto maker-driven initiative, FordDirect is a dealer-controlled entity, and that may give dealers more say in the process and the look of Ford's corporate dealer sites.

DealerConnection includes Ford's corporate websites and the websites of approximately 5,000 dealers representing mostly Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands.

FordDirect is an online lead provider. It acquires sales leads and distributes them to dealers who pay $15 for each one.

FordDirect takes over for ChannelNet, formerly SoftAd, the firm that has been responsible for DealerConnection since it developed it in 1995.

“It is the right fit for us,” says FordDirect President Steve St. Andre. “FordDirect has proven it can create sales for Ford. By year's end, we'll have generated at least 10% of Ford's sales.”

While the business model for the new venture has not been fully developed yet, FordDirect will begin placing many of the tools and content it developed for its website onto the dealership websites.

St. Andre says no decision has been made whether to maintain the current DealerConnection platform, or to move the dealer sites to FordDirect's platform.

In addition to the websites, FordDirect is taking a more active role in the lead management process for dealers.

“We want to find what the best way is to help our dealers,” St. Andre says. “Where there are problems, we'll try to help the dealer identify the problem and then find ways to help them fix it.”