DETROIT – With apologies to Sir Walter Scott, it is a tangled web we weave when first we practice to retrieve – vehicle configurations from OEM Internet sites.

So Ford Motor Co. is doing something about it.

“We’re in the middle of a pretty extensive complexity reduction initiative,” says

Randy Ortiz, general manager-Ford and Lincoln Mercury sales. “We want to make sure that our consumer-facing interface on the Web, is in sync with those buildable combinations.”

Expect most of the changes to be reflected when ’09 model-year production begins, Ortiz tells Ward’s at the Automotive News World Congress. The changes are designed to resolve disparities between the auto maker’s production schedules and the vehicles consumers most commonly configure when they shop online.

“There are certain combinations that we’re building (that) turn at a more rapid rate,” Ortiz says. Ford wants to “make sure that we’re giving that same guidance to people configuring vehicles online, so there’s not a disconnect between what they’re building and ultimately what’s out there in inventory,” he adds.

Ford is mum on its target for buildable combinations, but a spokeswoman says the auto maker won’t have to wait until ’09 to benefit from the initiative.

“The ’08 model-year products are beginning to reflect this,” she says.

Ford’s ultimate goal is to reduce complexity enough to challenge industry leadership by 2012.

Dealers seem encouraged. Says Annette Sykora, dealer principal of Smith Ford Mercury in Slaton, TX: “Sometimes people come in with a list of what they build online on a vehicle and there’s not one in stock configured that way. It would alleviate a lot of the confusion if consumers had a choice of vehicle that matches typical availability.”

In his remarks to attendees at the industry conference here, Ortiz notes Ford has reduced dealer inventories by 200,000 units since 2006. Meanwhile, quality is on an upswing as the auto maker recorded a 20% decline in warranty expenditures from 2005 to 2007.

Ford also commits to a 35% reduction in the average age of its product portfolio by the end of 2009.

– with Byron Pope