Today’s car dealerships can take a line from Bob Dylan and make it their own: “The times they are a changing.”
Yet, Rod Baker Ford in Plainfield is thriving in an era when drivers are holding on to their vehicles for four to five years, instead of three to four, before trading them in for a new ones.
Sales are up 58 per cent, (80 per cent in new car sales), since the new management team came into place two years ago. These impressive numbers have been garnered in a time when every manufacturer is turning out top quality vehicles in a competitive market.
Anthony LePore, Rod Baker’s general sales manager, points to Ford’s innovative product line as one of the prime factors in the dealership’s success.
He is also aware that the car companies cannot rest on their laurels.
For example, Ford received a boost in consumer confidence when it was the one major North American carmaker that didn’t need a government bailout when the economy went for a dump in 2009.
“That (advantage) is wearing off now,” says LePore, adding that quality and service are the keys to success in the business.
“Everything made in the automotive industry has got to be a quality, well-built vehicle. One bad product line can put an entire company back five to six years. That’s about how long it takes to win back consumer trust.”
While LePore sees the “bread and butter” vehicles like the popular Ford 150 pickup continuing to have good sales, he is excited by the latest in the Ford Fusion and Focus lines.
The Fusion is aptly named. Its design blends sporty lines with the dependability of a family sedan, has an available six-speed manual transmission – something you don’t often find in the sedan category – and optional all-wheel drive.
Power train options range from a 2.5-liter four cylinder to a novel 188-hp hybrid that comes with a 7.2-kilowatt hour lithium ion battery pack.
Its conventional hybrid system, with its 2.0-litre turbo/direct four, generates 240 hp and 270 pound-feet of torque, while sipping fuel at an EPA rate of 47 mpg, which is best in the sedan class.
The Focus, meanwhile, has quietly supplanted the Toyota Corolla as the compact vehicle that sets the standard.
It has an eye-catching, contoured exterior and its impressive array of features is winning over the consumer.
The S model, for example, is the most basic. Yet it still includes air conditioning, CD sound, and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel.
The fully loaded, top-of-the-line Titanium features dual-zone climate control, a ten-speaker Sony sound system, HD Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio, sport seats, and a sport suspension.
A touch-screen system combining audio, connectivity, and navigation features is standard on the Focus Titanium.
The Focus ST model is Ford’s entry in the small, gutsy sports car, or “hot hatch”, segment and is receiving favorable reviews when compared to such popular vehicles as the Volkswagen GTI and Subaru BRZ.
“Both (the Fusion and the Focus) give us a real shot in the arm,” concludes LePore.
The overall improvement in quality and service has led motorists to hold on their vehicles longer, as well as be more confident when it comes to buying a used vehicle over a new one.
With pre-owned car sales increasing, LePore is confident the new car niche will grow when the fleet of cars out there reaches the age of seven or eight and begin to cost more to maintain than their trade-in value justifies.
As well, when new models come on to the scene, LePore says the consumer is no longer taking the stance of “let’s wait a year to buy one, just in case.”
Today’s cars go through a religiously rigorous checkup before they see the light of day.
“The consumer doesn’t really have that on his mindset, any more. For all intents and purposes, a new line has already been out there for a year before it hits the dealership.”
Written by Dan Pelton