Ford CEO Jim Farley had much to say at the Bernstein's 38th Annual Strategic Decisions Conference, which took place on June 1. He spoke at length about evolution and consolidation in the auto industry on virtually every level, which includes dealerships. From his perspective, he sees a shift to online vehicle sales with non-negotiable prices and remote deliveries.
That's not to say dealerships would disappear completely. Towards the end of the hour-long conversation, Farley likens Ford's current position to that of retail company Target, which added an e-commerce aspect to its physical locations to better compete with Amazon.
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"It's exactly what we have to do on the retail side," said Farley. "We've got to go to non-negotiated price. We've got to go 100 percent online. The vehicle, there is no inventory so it goes directly to the customer, 100 percent remote pickup and delivery."
While Farley doesn't directly reference Tesla during this part of the discussion, it's largely implied that he sees the California-based EV company as the competition in this manner. Tesla doesn't operate with a traditional dealership network, but Farley views Ford's future dealership network as specialized with multiple tiers, providing retail customers in-person, long-term support.
"But then we have this opportunity to use our physical presence, outperform [the competition]," he said. "Like, I believe some Mach-E and Lightning customers would love to have a Mustang for the weekend. Maybe they want a Super Duty. [Ford] can do that, [the competition] can't."
Dealerships have certainly come under scrutiny in the last year or so amid dwindling new-vehicle stocks. Selling prices above the MSRP have become commonplace, with some higher-demand models seeing significant markups. Some dealerships have also come under fire for allegedly altering signed lease contracts, adding additional fees, or refusing to let leaseholders buy out the car. Infiniti issued a warning to dealerships over potential improper conduct regarding lease contracts, while Ford and General Motors issued general warnings about excessive price markups that could harm automaker relationships with customers.