Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

Ford Motor Co. today unveils an initiative designed to assist its U.S. dealer network in improving the energy efficiency of their facilities.

The so-called “Green Initiative,” being revealed to Ford dealers at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. gathering in Orlando, FL, is completely voluntary, and investment amounts are left up to individual store owners, says Dave Kelleher, director-market representation.

“We’ve been providing dealers with design standards and facility guidelines for a long time,” Kelleher says. “What we’ve never provided to them is how to make their dealership energy efficient; we’ve left that to them and their contractors.”

For a small fee, participating dealers are provided an energy assessment from a team of experts from Ford Land, the auto maker’s real-estate arm. Kelleher does not say how much dealers will be charged for the report.

The team, which is responsible for green initiatives at Ford facilities around the country, including the living roof atop the Dearborn truck plant, will be assisted by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit think-tank focusing on various energy initiatives.

The cost of the upgrades will depend on how many recommendations are implemented, says Ken Czubay, Ford vice president-sales and marketing.

“We’re looking at anywhere from $100,000 up to $700,000-$800,000 in improvements,” he says, noting dealers can expect to see a return on their investment in the form of energy savings in three to eight years.

Potential store modifications range from switching to more energy-efficient light bulbs to installing photovoltaic equipment.

“We start with the very basics, saying, ‘Here are the standards you should use to maintain your facility,’” Kelleher says.

More advanced improvements could include cutting air conditioning use by finding ways to limit the amount of heat radiated into the showroom from the car lot’s blacktop, he says.

Ford is developing a branding system dealers can display to make consumers aware of the green investments.

Czubay says he realizes times are tough for many dealers, and making seemingly unnecessary investments may be a difficult sell.

The market “remains challenging, but nevertheless this is a long-term commitment to the environment that many dealers and communities are cognizant of,” he says. “And it’s a darn good investment.”

Ford also officially will announce the formation of the “Consumer Experience and Dealer Profitability Committee” today.

The recently formed committee is composed of a diverse group of dealers from around the country and will interact with Ford brass in Dearborn to conceive ways to better serve consumers and boost dealer profitability.

“Without the improvement in profitability, we can’t have a sustainable dealer organization,” Czubay says. “It’s critically important to us.”

Ford says its recent efforts to align production closer to demand have improved dealer profitability by lowering inventory expenses.

Last year, average floor-plan expenses were down 43% across Ford’s 3,553 U.S. dealers, Czubay says, adding dealers last year saw an average 15-fold increase in per-store revenue compared with 2008 levels.

“Ford dealers have dramatically improved profitability, but they’re not where they need to be. We’re not satisfied,” he says. “We want them to make all the money. Because when they do, we become the brand of choice for their (customers) and for their reinvestments (in their stores).”

bpope@wardsauto.com