A number of new-car dealers say the American Family Assn. (AFA) boycott of Ford Motor Co. vehicles is having little effect on sales so far, but they admit their concern is rising as the boycott lingers.

The Tupelo, MS-based AFA has been boycotting Ford products since March in protest of the auto maker’s support for several gay and lesbian events and the advertising it places in gay-directed publications.

Recent press reports have suggested the AFA’s boycott is starting to gain momentum and is becoming a thorn in the side of the auto maker’s dealers.

Dan Janssen of Janssen & Sons Ford in Holdrege, NE, tells Ward’s he isn’t seeing a direct effect on sales yet but fears the boycott could take a toll eventually.

“I have had a lot of (negative) comments from longtime customers,” he says.

Annette Zykora, dealer principle of Smith-Ford Mercury in Slaton, TX, says she has received several e-mails from customers threatening not to buy Ford vehicles until the ads and support of gay and lesbian activities are halted.

In one e-mail, an angry couple told Zykora they’ve “purchased our last Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicle until Ford gives up its campaign to shove homosexuality down our collective throats.”

Despite the venomous e-mails, Zykora says she has not seen a drop in sales as a result of the boycott.

“The inaccuracy concerns me; the unfairness concerns me,” she says of the AFA’s campaign. “With all the diversity (in the marketplace), I don’t know how any company could say they’re going to turn their back on any particular market.”

Some Ford dealers are taking a more defiant tack in response to the AFA boycott.

“Our position will not change,” Robert Hudson, president of Middletown, WI-based Middleton Motors Inc., tells Ward’s. “Ford and the Ford dealers are proud of our collective tradition of treating all with respect, and we remain focused on what we do best – building and selling the most innovative cars and trucks worldwide.”

The AFA argues the boycott is beginning to impact the auto maker.

“We think Ford is getting the message that many of their customers are disappointed in them to the point that they’re going to join the boycott of the Ford Motor Co.,” says Randy Sharp, director-special projects for the AFA. He says 400,000 people have signed an AFA-issued pledge not to purchase Ford vehicles.

Sharp points to Ford’s April sales results as evidence the 10-week-old boycott is gaining momentum.

Ford U.S. deliveries fell 2.7% in April compared with year-ago and are down 3.9% year-to-date. That showing trails the light-vehicle industry overall, which was down less than 1% in April and year-to-date. But Ford’s performance is better than the U.S. Big Three overall, which saw sales slip a combined 5.1% last month and 4.2% so far in 2006.

While there’s no arguing the sales decline, it is difficult to determine whether the AFA boycott contributed to it, says Kevin Collins, president-Bill Collins Ford in Louisville, KY, and vice chairman-Ford National Dealer Council.

“It’s hard to say sales are affected by it because the whole industry is not that great right now,” Collins says. “I don’t think it’s a main impact, but I’m certain there are a lot of people that have certain beliefs and opinions, and if they’re close to that organization (AFA) they probably are very staunch in their support.”

A Ford spokeswoman says the AFA boycott has not played a big role in the auto maker’s sales performance.

“I think the impact appears to be limited,” she says. “Most of the feedback I’ve heard (from Ford dealers) is the positive reception of new product.”

bpope@wardsauto.com