Editorial: Ford Accelerates Online Efforts - Publication: Direct Marketing Magazine - Issue: September 2001

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After citing the development of huge supply chain savings resulting from e-commerce, Ford have pledged a heavier commitment to online marketing, with an intentional swing away from the production centric model of the traditional manufacturer and emphasis on development of online 'lifestyle' services for consumers and B2B trading services.

Revealing Ford’s future online vision at last week’s Automotive News Europe's ebusiness conference in Strasbourg, Andy Egglestone, Ford’s VP responsible for e-business strategy said costs will be squeezed right through the supply chain, with the customer driving the industry in the build-to-order model.

”B2B trading is already growing rapidly”, Egglestone said, with Ford conducting 65 online supplier auctions in 2000. ”These auctions on commodity products like gear knobs saved Ford $US48 million in 2000. These savings derived from e-commerce will drive car prices further down, especially in Europe,” Egglestone said,.

An online purchasing channel for consumers, Forddirect.com, operational in early 2001 will form the core component of Ford’s online lifestyle strategy. 3200 of Ford’s 4000 division dealers are to participate in the scheme, equating to an expected 90 per cent of sales volume throughout the US.

With Ford’s existing online presence essentially informational, providing insight to areas such as corporate citizenship, the environment and safety features, Forddirect.com will present a radically new online dynamic, enabling consumers to purchase cars or trucks online. A buyer will have the opportunity to coordinate every aspect of purchasing a vehicle online, from arranging finance to organizing vehicle delivery.

After accessing their local dealer online, a consumer will have the power to check the dealer’s inventory, and subsequently order a vehicle to precise specifications, from colour through to detailing and accessories

While unwilling to reveal exact details about next year's online marketing strategy for fear of fuelling competitor knowledge, Ford marketing spokesperson Chris Vineyard said the development and release Ford Direct.com will radically transform the conventional dynamic of purchasing a vehicle, while maximising the benefits of ecommerce technology. ”We currently attract around 1 million visitors every month and this will undoubtedly increase with the introduction of Forddirect, the continuing evolution of its design and functionality and the further development of lifestyle services to consumers”.

One such ”lifestyle service” was the announcement of a partnership with internet wireless company, Quallcomm in July of this year. The announcement cited the current development of web access for Ford cars and trucks, with technology equipped vehicles expected ”sometime in 2001”.

The Quallcom backed technology will enable a medium for navigation and weather data, news and entertainment information, while presenting new marketing and advertising opportunities. Further online consumer friendly lifestyle services are to include the provision of dealer and manufacturer initiated service reminders, online coordination of vehicle pickup and access to spare parts information.
Ford is currently involved in an online dealer to dealer purchasing system known as Covescant, alongside major manufacturers such as Nissan and GM. Routed online to assorted manufacturers, the system enables dealers to order and purchase of parts and systems used in cars and trucks.

Already attuned to the web savvy marketplace, Ford has developed strategic partnerships with an assortment of major Internet players, including Yahoo Autos, I Village and Microsoft Car Point.

Commenting on the evolution of Ford’s online presence, Vineyard says Ford is aiming to cater for a crossection of the community, from Luddites to the technologically adept, yet he is keen to acknowledge the significance of old world sales techniques.

”The Internet has grown so fast that it allows us to reach target groups in a manner that would not happen as successfully via conventional media. It has transformed the way we do business in general and will form a key part of our future business strategy.”

“On the other hand, our internet strategy is not intending to replace existing efforts and media,” Vineyard said. “It is to act as an addition to established methods of marketing and advertising. There will always be a need for a bricks and mortar dealership, and a potential buyers physical interaction with a new car and a salesperson. Our dealers will always remain front and center.”

Written by Craig Stephens

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