September sales alone for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury jumped to 160,873 vehicles, 46 percent more than a year earlier. The Ford Edge crossover led the pack, up 186 percent from a year earlier with 12,815 sold. Car sales rose 40 percent; trucks, 43 percent; and utility vehicles, 61 percent overall. (The Mercury brand will be phased out by the year's end.)
Ironically, as the figures were released, Ford was making waves at the annual Paris auto show with its Focus ST concept, featuring Recaro seats and a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder EcoBoost turbocharged engine that runs cleaner and generates 10 percent more horsepower than the current ST. The new 2012 Focus is due on the market in early 2011.
Dealers Enjoy Business Boost
U.S. Ford dealers, meanwhile, are enjoying the boost. "It's exciting to sell cars for Ford right now," says Charles Hassoun, general manager at Shamaley Ford in El Paso, Texas, a family-owned dealership ranking second in sales volume in Ford's Southwest Region.
"We're not selling more cars, we're selling fewer, but quality is starting to pay benefits because we're picking up market share," says Tony Griffi n, general manager and partner at Horne Ford in Nogales, Ariz.
In Morrow, Ga., near Atlanta, Allan Vigil, owner of Allan Vigil Ford Lincoln Mercury, says: "The product is far and away better than it has ever been. The quality is better than Toyota or Honda right now."
Dealers feel the effect. "Ford quality is amazing, and I can tell by my warranty dollars going down," says Fernando Varela, owner of All Star Ford-Mercury in Palestine, Texas, about halfway between Dallas and Houston.
"The dealership is the last line between the manufacturer and the consumer," Mr. Hassoun adds. "As such, the better the initial product quality is, the easier life is for the dealership. Consumers have spoken, and Ford is listening." This year culminates a decade of listening hard.
Emphasis on Quality
"We started another quality initiative in the late '90s, but we were doing it one line at a time," says Dennis Snyder, president of Rich Ford in Albuquerque, N.M., and past chairman of Ford's National Dealer Council. Mr. Snyder represented heavily Hispanic New Mexico and Arizona, plus Las Vegas on the council.
"Plants were doing everything at warp speed and were asking dealers to take everything they made. We would have 150 days' supply and it would sit on dealers' lots and not get the maintenance attention it should have. We were just out there jamming product," he says.
Rattles, squeaks, malfunctioning handles and mechanical glitches got handled aft er customers found them. To the customer, quality looked like an aft erthought. The company languished in the automotive industry's quality ratings, and it lost money on warranty repairs.
Under William Clay Ford's chairmanship, the company stepped up its quality initiative, getting everyone involved from the plant fl oor to the top management. In two years, the projects saved Ford more than $675 million worldwide. Ford's Main Cheerleader, Alan Mulally Dealers attribute the gains to Alan Mulally, the former Boeing Co. executive who stepped aboard as CEO in September 2006. "If you met him, you'd think he was a cheerleader," Mr. Snyder says. Adds Mr. Hassoun: "Since Mr. Mulally joined Ford, the company has become more responsive to customer concerns and demands, more responsive to the challenges of environmental responsibility and sustainability, and has listened to its dealers and responded with the level of quality and product lineup you see in Ford showrooms today—all of this while facing one of the largest economic downturns our country has ever seen."
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