First the Alamo, Now Trucks

Jordan Ford in San Antonio, TX, takes its brand's slight truck lead in the state personally. Texas is where American pickups are king, and the domestics run almost neck-to-neck. It's also where the Big Two Chevrolet and Ford are watching their backs as Toyota Motor Sales USA challenges them on their own turf with the new full-size Tundra pickup, now made in San Antonio. Also in the fray is the Chrysler

Jordan Ford in San Antonio, TX, takes its brand's slight truck lead in the state personally.

Texas is where American pickups are king, and the domestics run almost neck-to-neck.

It's also where the Big Two — Chevrolet and Ford — are watching their backs as Toyota Motor Sales USA challenges them on their own turf with the new full-size Tundra pickup, now made in San Antonio. Also in the fray is the Chrysler Group with its Dodge Ram pickup.

In a day when dealers have rushed toward multi-franchising, Jordan Ford, with 220 employees, has been a loyal, single-point Ford dealer since founder James Jordan started store in 1919.

Jordan, San Antonio's oldest Ford store and one of its highest volume sellers, opened an all-new $4-million, 18,000-sq.-ft. facility in January.

Attending the grand opening were Ford Motor Co. top brass, including Chairman Bill Ford Jr.

At the new facility's grand opening, Bill Ford says that Ford being a 103-year-old auto company provides a unique perspective.

“Every time we've gone through tough times, we came out stronger,” he says, referring to Ford's current struggles. “This won't be any different.”

The new facility replaces the former store, but Jordan still runs a separate body shop (Jordan Collision), parts department, used-car department and Jordan Motor Cars, a huge used-car operation nearby.

Jordan Ford co-owner Marc Cross says the historic relationship between Jordan and Ford goes back to founder Henry Ford's days. The oriental rug in his office was the same carpet that Henry Ford and Thomas Tomajian, Cross' great grandfather, stood on to shake hands when Henry Ford invited Tomajian to join Ford as a blue-collar worker in Dearborn, MI, in the early 1900s.

Cross lauds Bill Ford, Henry's great grandson, saying, “He was clearly impressed with how we've built the facility to accommodate customers. We were blown away by the loyalty of Ford top management to devote their time to come here.”

Another top-level visitor during a separate stop while in town for a Chamber of Commerce speech was Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas.

Cross attributes the corporate attention to the fact that Jordan has remained a loyal Ford franchise. He's been approached about selling other makes, too, but refused.

“We're not interested in any other brand,” he says.

Cross, along with co-dealer and CFO Mike Trompeter each worked at the dealership for more than 20 years before buying the franchise on June 16, 2003 — fittingly Ford's 100th year anniversary.

Ford finds itself in a pickup-truck segment dogfight as GM's Chevrolet division battles back and Chrysler inches forward with its Dodge brand.

This comes at a time when Toyota flexes its muscles by opening the new San Antonio Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant, home of the redesigned Tundra.

Domestics have dominated the region and state, but the battle is intensifying. Chevrolet had 20.9% of retail light duty truck share in Texas last year, according to Brian Maki, Chevrolet regional truck manager.

Ford had 21% of retail truck share in 2006, up 5 points over Ford national, according to region sales records. Dodge boosted its Texas pickup share to 17.8% in the first quarter of 2007. Toyota claims about a 10% region market share, but is moving up.

The Southwest is the largest U.S. retail market for Ford. Texas is its dominant market representing 90% of the region's sales.

“In 2006, our dealers sold a new F-series truck every four minutes, and in 2007, we do not plan to slow the clock down,” says David Mondragon, Ford's Southwest regional sales manager.

Hispanic customers buy about 20% of Ford products in Texas. Texas represents 40% of national F-150 sales to Hispanics. San Antonio has a 60% Hispanic population, vs. the state's 34% rate.

“Hispanic customers are very different than non-Hispanic customers, they look to build relationships first; after trust is established, they do business,” Mondragon said. “Our goal from a marketing perspective is to establish trust and confidence in the brand and make the purchase experience a true celebration for the Hispanic consumer.”

Toyota plans to sell 200,000 upgraded '07 Tundras this year, despite a late launch in February.

Toyota is “in it for the long haul, in Texas,” says Tom Shopoff, Toyota's Gulf States regional distribution director. “We're not looking for instantaneous success. We understand people have a lot of loyalty to domestics and expect they might stay there.”

Toyota has offered big Tundra incentives in the region. Example: Universal Toyota in San Antonio advertised $8,669 incentives, or $169 monthly leases, on Tundra Double Cabs in April-May.

Cross doesn't underestimate Toyota and knows a decent number of buyers will shop the Tundra, but “I'm not losing sleep over it.”

Jordan's Ford sales were up 45% in May from a year earlier, Cross says, when Ford was losing sales nationally. The dealership sold 2,500 new units in 2006.

Cross says the new customer-friendly facility is helping both sales and customer satisfaction.

One in-house attraction is Henry's Roadhouse, a diner named after Henry Ford. It's open to the public and offers upscale fare at reasonable prices.

There's also a lounge with wireless Internet and plasma TV; a children's play area with a basketball court; a 51-service bay facility and a vacuum tube system to deliver keys underground across the 14-acre dealer site.

Ford also is helping dealers like Jordan maintain community relationships.

Ford awarded San Antonio with $11 million in educational grants to athletes and scholars. The auto maker gave $5.5 million in restoration funds to Museo Alameda (a Latin American museum) and the impending Alamada Theater.

Meanwhile, Cross is touting Ford vehicles doing well on recent vehicle-quality surveys.

“It's an example of what's been happening lately (at Ford),” he says. “It's like the perfect storm — only a good thing. All these factors are coming together at the right time.”

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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