DEARBORN, Mich.—In a move that signals new competition for independent tire dealers, Ford Motor Co. is kicking off a national advertising campaign that boldly promotes its Ford and Lincoln-Mercury service departments as ``America's Newest Tire Store.'' Beginning Aug. 2, Ford said TV ads will air in all major markets across the country stressing the availability of brand name tires at these dealerships, with radio and direct mail ads soon to follow.
``Tires have been one of the key service components that customers purchase from retailers other than their (new-car) dealers. We want our customers to know that there is no reason for them to go elsewhere for any vehicle need, including tires,'' Carl Bergman, Ford's customer service operations manager said in a prepared statement.
The campaign will feature national TV ads on the major networks, as well as syndicated TV and cable stations, said Susan Reil Johnson, advertising manager, Quality Care brand for the Ford Customer Service Division. Print ads will appear on a regional basis toward the end of the third quarter for Ford dealerships, but on a much smaller scale, she said.
The national radio and TV spots will continue until the end of November, Ms. Reil Johnson said.
More than 2,400 out of 5,000 Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships are already selling major brand name tires—accounting for 75 percent of Ford's volume, she said.
The tire brands offered by Ford dealers are the ones fitted as original equipment on Ford vehicles, including Goodyear, Michelin, Bridgestone, Firestone, Continental and General, she said.
Two weeks after the tire ad campaign is in full swing, a new round of advertising will kick off to pitch Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships as one-stop shops for tires, brakes, shocks, wheel alignments and batteries.
The company declined to disclose how much it is spending on the ad campaign.
The auto maker's bid to become ``America's newest tire store,'' is part of its ``Around the Wheel'' initiative to help dealers sell aftermarket service, thus building customer loyalty. Ford wants to keep its customers returning to its dealerships for tires rather than refer them to tire retailers, Ms. Reil Johnson said.
``We don't want to have to send our customers down the road to another installer, like a Goodyear or Firestone or independent,'' she said. ``We want to be able to take care of them from the very top of the car to the very bottom of the car—all at the Ford/Lincoln-Mercury service department.''
The auto maker's goal is to sell 1 million tires in 1999, Ms. Reil Johnson said, commenting that she wasn't certain how much that would equate to per dealer per day.
She noted that Ford isn't trying to compete on price and offer four tires for $99—as Penske Auto Centers Inc. does—but the firm wants to make sure its tire prices are competitive and fair.
Ms. Reil Johnson said the idea is, ``if you bought an Explorer with a set of Firestones on it, and you were happy with the performance of the tires,...when they need to be replaced, it just makes sense'' to get them replaced at the auto dealership while the vehicle is in for service.
The ``Around the Wheel'' initiative, which has been in effect for the past year, has teamed up Ford's dealers with trainers from all the tire makers, Ms. Reil Johnson said. The auto maker's dealers also have received tire service training from the Ford Star broadcast network on satellite, as well as from the company's own training teams.
Ford's dealerships will stock tires bought for its dealer network from tire makers, a Ford spokesman said.
Ford President and CEO Jacques Nasser had said the company's goal is to become the world's leading supplier of consumer automotive products and services.
True to that goal, the company in April acquired Kwik-Fit Holdings P.L.C., Europe's largest independent tire dealership, for $1.6 billion and plans to expand that business concept across Europe. Kwik-Fit, which is now part of Ford's Customer Service Division, operates more than 1,600 outlets across the continent.
The Ford spokesman said the Kwik-Fit operations in Europe remain separate from the U.S. and are unrelated to Ford's push for tire sales and service here.
``Kwik-Fit and what's going on with the tire campaign are both indicative of Ford's drive to bring more service back to our dealers and the company,'' the spokesman told Tire Business.