Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

LAS VEGAS – Ford Motor Co. dealers get their first look at the auto maker’s new CEO Alan Mulally during a franchise meeting held at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention here.

While many dealers exit the meeting tight-lipped, others express confidence in Ford’s new leadership team.

“Alan brings a fresh perspective and energy,” Sam Pack, a major Ford dealer in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, says. “It’s obvious he has a passion for this business. If you’re going to be involved and successful, you have to have that necessary drive.”

Pack is encouraged that Mulally appears to have the support of Ford’s board of directors. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t be here,” he says.

Pack believes the auto maker needs to stabilize its management and says Mulally needs to “get the team around him that he feels comfortable with. He’s got to change the culture there.”

When asked if he sees the team changing, he says, “I don’t have a feel for that. They have made major decisions regarding realignment, and it looks like the business team is in place.

“Dealers have confidence in the team and we have a great relationship with Cisco (Codina, group vice-president-North America marketing).”

Despite media grousing about the auto maker’s product lineup, dealers say they are happy with it.

Speaking with reporters, Bert Boeckmann, owner of one of Ford’s largest dealerships, Galpin Motors, in North Hills, CA, says, “The end answer is the product, and it’s the product that wins. In years past, we played not to lose instead of playing to win. I see a reversal of that.”

Longtime Ford dealer Bill Smith of Russell and Smith Ford in Houston, says the new products will be winners.

Meanwhile, Pack says the biggest issue is perception. “Candidly, the product is much stronger than what it appears to be,” he says.

During the franchise meeting, Ford addressed its dealership reduction plan briefly. “They mentioned it,” Smith says. “But that really is it. It is a voluntary program, so dealers have to make the first effort.”

Smith is confident in the brand, noting he just spent $16 million in upgrading his Ford property.

“We’re saying grace for what we have,” he says.

cbanks@wardsauto.com