Persisting in its effort to become the one-stop shop for vehicles and service, Ford Motor Co. continues to expand its Quick Lane Tire and Service Centers program, hoping eventually to reach at least 500 locations.
Launched in 1998, Quick Lane is Ford's way to offer customers whose warranties have expired, basic automotive services that take less than two hours-with the added convenience of extended hours and no appointments. The stand-alone outlets have separate signage, managers and parking situated either at or within close proximity to Ford dealerships.
There currently are 164 Quick Lane centers nationwide operated by Ford dealerships, with 16 more expected by year-end, according to Scott Eldridge, Ford Customer Service Division's alternative service manager. In 2003, Quick Lane should reach 250 locations.
Quick Lane centers carry original equipment Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal, Goodyear, Continental and General brand tires-the same choices as the "Around the Wheel" tire program operated by Ford's dealerships, Mr. Eldridge said. Tire sales currently comprise 15 percent of Quick Lane's sales, though Mr. Eldridge noted "we'd like to do a better job with tires."
"Like the Ford service departments, it's an opportunity for growth," he said. "We can do a better job than we've done in the past. Like service departments, you have to commit to being in the tire business. You can't dabble in it. So yeah, we think it's an opportunity for growth. We try to tag the facilities as tire and auto centers to do a better job with tires."
During the Firestone recall of 6.5 million tires, and later Ford's replacement of 13 million Firestone tires, Quick Lane outlets were "integral" in replacing large volumes of tires, he said.
Although the goal of Quick Lane is similar to Around the Wheel in the sense of trying to increase Ford's customer loyalty and share of the automotive service market, Mr. Eldridge said the two formats don't compete with each other. About 3,800-4,000 Ford dealers participate in the Around the Wheel initiative whether or not they operate a Quick Lane.
"I think what the Quick Lane offers a dealership is a visual difference for the customer and offers a different experience, much like the aftermarket," Mr. Eldridge said. The format has two objectives: to retain Ford and non-Ford vehicle owners as their warranties end and later to recapture those customers when they need to purchase new vehicles, he said.
With Around the Wheel, selling OE tire brands is the primary focus. But with Quick Lane, "we're trying to migrate to a good, better, best (tire pricing) strategy because the vehicle we're seeing in the Quick Lane is a little bit older than the one in the (dealership) service department," Mr. Eldridge added.
He admitted that Quick Lane is competitive in tire pricing, though "there are outlets that may have a better price than us. We just want to be convenient and more full-serviced to the customer as one-stop shopping. I think that's our niche in the marketplace."
About 65 percent of Quick Lane customers previously had gone to some type of aftermarket shop, Mr. Eldridge said.
He also noted that Ford dealers garner about 20 percent of the aftermarket business and that tire sales and services tend to shift away from the traditional service department once a dealership opens a Quick Lane. And like Ford service departments, Quick Lane employs factory-trained technicians.
Interestingly, in direct mail ads, Quick Lane centers tend not to identify themselves as Ford affiliates because car dealers try to pull from households within a "tight radius" around their locations, he explained, so the dealers concentrate on marketing the Quick Lane name. And when the customer comes to the dealership, he said, they see the Ford signage and immediately make the association.
"Our direct mail pieces tend to focus on households to bring in traffic," he said. "We try to attract both Ford, Lincoln-Mercury and non-Ford customers."