From Concept to Muscle Car: How FordDirect Grew to 9 Percent of Ford Division Sales

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    DEARBORN, Mich., Aug. 30 -It was November 1999 and as the Ford National Dealer Council members traveled to Dearborn, Mich., their number one concern and one that was on the minds of all Ford dealers in the country, was the Internet and what was Ford's plan for the future of e-commerce.

    The Information, Technology and Internet committee was told at their meeting that Ford wanted to maintain control of their brand online and they were looking to acquire or partner with some of the emerging third party Internet transaction sites.

    Leo Hillock, then Dealer Principal at Maroone Ford in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, left the meeting with a feeling that Ford was right, they needed a stronger online presence, but that there was a better solution.

    "I felt that the solution to the problem was for Ford and Ford dealers to form a joint venture and create our own automotive Internet company," Hillock said. "We could combine the strengths of Ford Motor Company and Ford dealers to give the customer everything they could get from a third party site and more."

    The Dealer Council returned to Dearborn in December of 1999, and Hillock brought with him a proposal, a business plan to form a joint venture between Ford and Ford dealers.

    "Leo brought back with him not only an idea but a whole packet of information that laid out exactly how it would work. He even had a name picked out, FordDirect -- it was so powerful it just made a lot of sense," said Jerry Reynolds, Dealer Principal of Prestige Ford in Garland, Texas.

    Over the next eight months, Ford and Ford dealers worked together to make FordDirect a reality. They jointly raised capital and devised the structure for this one-of-a-kind joint venture. And in August of 2000, at a joint press conference, they announced the formation of FordDirect.

    The first task at hand was to hire a management team with the right mix of talent. This team would have to bring together the dealer and manufacturer and compete in the third party Internet space. Steve St. Andre, current President and COO of FordDirect was hired from AutoWeb. Jared Rowe, current Sr. Vice President of Operations, was hired from Autobytel. Current CFO Ted Vincent was hired from Ford. And two dealers, Hillock and David Kain, a dealer from Louisville, rounded off the group.

    On December 20, 2000, FordDirect launched its first service. New Vehicle Marketing Services was launched with 15 New Jersey dealers and a handful of Internet referrals. FordDirect's model grew to build a best-in-class website and to aggregate leads from sources all over the web, filter them, de- duplicate them and deliver dealers high quality sales opportunities.

    Now sales from these referrals represent more than 9 percent of Ford Division sales and FordDirect has more than 4,200 participating dealers from Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover brands. The company has also expanded its affiliate relationships to create an extensive online presence that reaches more than 15 million consumers each month.

    FordDirect offers dealers new, pre-owned and call tracking services. Dealer involvement continues to this day, with Hillock now serving as Executive Vice President of Dealer Relations and Development, an active dealer advisory board and a board of directors that control 80 percent of the voting interest in the company.

    "FordDirect has tremendously exceeded expectations. It's a great example of what the dealers and manufacturer can accomplish when they work on a common goal," said Bill Keith, chairman of the FordDirect Board of Directors and Dealer Principal at Freehold Ford. "The independent management of FordDirect can react quickly to changing market conditions and deliver big results from a small entity."

    About FordDirect is a joint venture between Ford Motor Company and its Ford franchised dealers to provide marketing services to FMC dealers and a best-in- class online shopping experience for consumers. It is the only dealer- manufacturer partnership in the industry. Launched in August 2000, FordDirect has more than 4,200 participating Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover dealers located in all 50 states. is headquartered in Dearborn, Mich.
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