DEARBORN, Mich.—Ford Motor Co.'s tire sales program, which refers to participating new-car dealerships as "America's newest tire stores," is on track to triple unit sales in its second full year of operation. "It was a very successful launch last year," said Kyle Leffert, tire product line manager, Ford customer service division. "Our dealers are doing quite well."
Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers expect to sell 3 million tires in 2000, Mr. Leffert said, about three times 1999 sales of just over 1 million.
With 2,700 participants, more than half of the company's 5,000 dealers in the U.S. are now selling tires—an increase of about 300 from a year ago.
Ford expects that number to top 3,000 by the end of the year.
Asked whether the tire program was leading to increased sales in other products and services, Mr. Leffert declined to give specific figures. "We know that it's contributing to our overall growth," he said.
The tire inventory at Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships primarily consists of brands and sizes that are original equipment on new vehicles, Mr. Leffert said. Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tires are the leading seller, with about a 40-percent share of total sales. Continental General Tire, Goodyear and Michelin North America divide the remainder nearly equally.
This is about the same as the proportion of brands that Ford puts on its vehicles as original equipment. "It really does match our OE application, " Mr. Leffert said.
"Very few" owners of other vehicle makes are buying tires at Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, Mr. Leffert said.
The program's marketing is targeted specifically at Ford product owners, as another incentive to have them return to one of Ford's dealership for service, the spokesman said.
"Once the customers understand that we are competitive (in tire prices) and that we have the tires that match their car and the tires that they want, " the spokesman said, "then they start coming back for all their service needs."
The tire program is part of Ford's "Around the Wheel" program, which began in 1998. Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers also include personalized tire wear and brake wear "report cards" with direct mail reminders to customers for regular maintenance.
Color graphs show the customer tread depth and brake lining thickness based on estimated mileage on the car at that time. Measurements approaching the red zone on the graphs warn the customer to come to the dealer for tire replacement and brake service.
"It's all part of the cycle of our relationship with the customer," Mr. Leffert said. "That's really the intent of why we're in the tire business."
The company spokesman said most of Ford's largest-volume dealerships have joined the tire program. Ford is making some adjustments in requirements, "to make it easier for small dealers" to be in the program, Mr. Leffert said.
"We have regular training standards for dealers to enter the program," the spokesman said.
Dealers receive training from Ford's own service network, which includes satellite TV programs, computer-based instruction and meetings, Mr. Leffert said, and from the equipment manufacturers.