New Ford Website Selling Direct to Consumers

Unfortunately, it’s only for U.K. buyers.

by on Jul.01, 2010

Ford's new U.K. website allows motorists to buy new and used cars directly online.

Hate schlepping from showroom to showroom looking for a new car?  You’re not alone, and Ford Motor Co. hopes to win over the legion of motorists who’d prefer to buy directly online with an all-new website.  The only problem is that it’s only available to buyers in the United Kingdom.

The automaker says its research shows that a whopping 40% of potential customers see no need for a test drive.  So, if they don’t want to kick the tires, they can click a mouse, as our friends at AutoBlog.com report.

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As of this month, U.K. customers can work through 50 dealers – about 8% of the company’s total outlets — who are ready to take their orders directly on line and then deliver a new or used car, truck or crossover through one of 12 pick-up points the maker has set up around the country.

All Ford models will be available through the new process and even technophobes can participate, since the automaker has also set up a call center for those who don’t or can’t send e-mail.

“Consumer are now ready to fully use the Internet in the car industry,” said Steve Hood, managing director of Ford.Online.co.UK, which is handling the direct sales operation.  “We are now witnessing a significant proportion of Internet customers that both know the car they want and are prepared to buy it direct if the Internet retailer is credible.”

The 50 dealers participating in the venture are wholly-owned by Ford.  Another 550 independent franchisees will continue operating as normal.

Ford said its research shows one in ten motorists felt a visit to dealers was “stressful,” while two in ten said they were intimidated by the apparent need to haggle over prices.  Most said they’d prefer a no-haggle price.  The data also show that a solid majority of potential Ford customers have done some form of shopping online already.

Whether others will follow Ford into the online world remains to be seen, even though all automakers now make use of the web to market their products and stay in with owners.

A decade back, Ford tried to launch a similar effort in the U.S., but it was ultimately stymied by the myriad of often severely restrictive state franchising laws that often seem written precisely to protect car dealers – no surprise considering auto retailers and their trade organizations, such as the National Automobile Dealers Association, are among the most powerful lobbying bodies in the country.

Still, the industry continues to seek ways to further tap into the potential of the Internet.  GM launched an effort of its own partnering with eBay, several years ago, but made sure dealers were active participants.

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4 Responses to “New Ford Website Selling Direct to Consumers”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keith Finnegan. Keith Finnegan said: RT @ chris_rainey New Ford Website Starts Selling Direct to Consumers … in the UK (dealer disintermediation) [...]

  2. Ford Direct says:

    I cannot believe that we in the UK are getting an easier way to buy something before the country that invented the drive-thru, and from an American company no less. It beggars belief…

  3. Lee Miskowski says:

    Paul: I always amazed at people’s lack of understanding the role of the internet and web sites in the automotive transaction.

    In the U.S. it can (and is) a very helpful tool but cannot replace the actual transaction – for some very good reasons, e,g. the required workings of the franchise system with various State laws, and the servicing aspect for the vehicle. It is an important add-on, not a replacement.

    Note that the UK system is with Ford-controlled dealerships – likely to be challenged by the independent dealers, I would think. Also, market research (U.S.) has shown the dealership ACTUAL buying experience to be much more satisfactory than the IMAGE of the buying experience – probably around 90%.

    Still, I wholeheartedly agree that those dealerships who are really “on top” of the internet potential are likely to be the best place to buy a vehicle.

    • tdb says:

      Lee,
      I thought my piece made it clear that the complex state franchise laws made it all but impossible for the U.S. to go this route, even though Ford, under CEO Jacques Nasser, tried to get around the restrictions, in several more company-friendly states, by using company-owned stores to test online-direct sales programs. That’s the strategy in the UK, though I wonder if some franchisees will eventually be allowed to participate (or ask to be participants).
      Any dealer anywhere in the world who believes the Internet is not important is a fool and I believe that those are the dealers who eventually will be driven from the business. But I continue to believe that unlike most other retail purchases, the final step in the car buying process will continue to be at the showroom for most buyers in most markets for a long time to come.
      Paul A. Eisenstein
      Publisher, TheDetroitBureau.com