A special think tank is being set up to help Ford find out how it can get closer to business drivers and private motorists – and what it needs to do to improve customer loyalty.

“Along with our dealers, we would like to have a longer relationship with our customers than we enjoy at present.

“The problem is that customers remain with manufacturers for as long as their new vehicle warranty lasts and then desert the network. What’s worse, if there’s a change of ownership within the warranty period, its often impossible to reach the next owner,” Ford of Britain managing director Nigel Sharp told Fleet News.

Asked if the market leader would respond to the introduction of a lifetime warranty by Vauxhall, he said: “We have no plans to make a counter offer in the immediate future.

“But we do need to look at this as a broader topic. I feel passionately about this because I believe our network is the best one to look after Ford vehicles. If we take this as the bigger challenge I believe it is, longer warranties allow customers greater potential for abuse…we have to make sure we have a system that is fair and doesn’t reward bad behaviour.

“Headline prices for service and repair can be slightly higher at a main dealership than at some independent garages, but very often the end bills can be less because our dealers have the processes, the training and the parts. Taking all that in to account, I need to work along with the network to develop some new offers.

“We need to look into the whole question of customer relationships and also at some further aspects of service. At the moment, we can’t tell if we’re penalising customers by keeping vehicles off the road while they are waiting for parts.

“I think we should be doing a better job – we should have information systems that alert us to situations like this so we can deliver a superior service that would result in the longer customer relationship that we want.”

Sharp added: “I think we can change a lot of our processes. One development that will help will be the electronic service records we will introduce next year. But there’s a whole lot more to be done – we are forming a strategic group with some of our dealers to develop ideas for change.”

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