DEARBORN -- Ford Motor Co. plans to eliminate more than a third of its Lincoln dealers as part of its effort to revive the luxury brand, according to a dealer who attended a closed-door meeting Tuesday.
Ford revealed the plan to its 1,100 Lincoln dealers at the meeting in Dearborn. Ramon Alvarez, who owns a Lincoln, Mercury and Jaguar dealership in Riverside, Calif., said Ford has identified 130 market areas where the brand has the best chance. It plans to consolidate its dealerships into those areas.
He said the plan will help remaining dealers be more profitable and allow them to invest more in showrooms. Alvarez said Ford wants dealers to upgrade services and offer perks like delivery of vehicles to buyers' homes.
"You have to be optimistic about these things," he said. But he acknowledged the move will be tough for rural dealers and those outside the market areas.
Lincoln sales have been lackluster in recent years despite new cars. Lincoln's sales peaked in 1990 at 231,660, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. Last year, Ford sold 82,847 as buyers looked to other luxury brands like Lexus and BMW.
Ford is under pressure from dealers to replace the volume they'll lose when the company phases out its long-struggling Mercury brand at the end of this year. Ford has around 270 Lincoln-Mercury dealers, and many relied on Mercury for more than half their sales. Some have already closed.
Lincoln sales have been lackluster in recent years despite new products. Lincoln's annual sales peaked in 1990 at 231,660, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. Last year, Ford sold 82,847 as buyers looked to other luxury brands like Lexus and BMW.
Ford plans to release seven new or revamped Lincolns in the next four years, including Lincoln's first compact car.
Ford also needs to change Lincoln's frumpy image and reach out to younger buyers. Lincoln currently has the oldest customers among luxury brands, with an average age of 66, according to AutoPacific, a consulting firm. BMW buyers are 15 years younger.
Matt VanDyke, U.S. marketing director for Ford and Lincoln, said Lincoln is defined by older vehicles like the Town Car sedan, which is often pressed into service as an airport limo and is being phased out next year. He wants buyers to focus on Lincoln's new products. Its top-sellers are the MKX, a large wagon, and the MKZ mid-size sedan.
Last weekend, Lincoln began a new series of ads featuring "Mad Men" actor John Slattery that focus on Lincoln's technology, including an in-dash touch screen that replaces knobs and dials. VanDyke said Ford wants Lincoln ads to be edgier and show direct comparisons to its competitors.
Next year, the company plans to start targeting shoppers on Internet car sites and offer to bring Lincolns to homes for a test drive