DEARBORN, Mich. — Ford Motor Co. plans to eliminate more than a third of its Lincoln dealers in large metropolitan areas over the next two years as part of its effort to revive the luxury brand, according to a dealer who attended a closed-door meeting Tuesday.
Ford revealed the plan to about 900 Lincoln dealers at the meeting near its Dearborn, Mich., headquarters.
Ramon Alvarez, who owns a Lincoln, Mercury and Jaguar dealership in Riverside, Calif., said Ford has identified 130 market areas that represent most U.S. luxury car sales. It plans to cut the 500 dealerships it has in those areas by 35 percent.
Ford has 700 Lincoln dealers outside those areas who will be meeting with the company to decide whether to stay open, convert to Ford-only dealerships or close, Ford's vice president of U.S. sales Ken Czubay said after the dealer meeting in a discussion with media. Czubay wouldn't say exactly how many dealers Ford expects to close.
Managers at Central Kentucky-area Lincoln dealers, all of which also sell Ford vehicles, either could not be reached for comment Tuesday or had not been told what, if any, impact the plan might have on their locations.
Ford executives said the plan will help remaining dealers be more profitable and allow them to invest more in their showrooms.
"We're fully committed to transforming Lincoln into a world-class luxury brand with compelling vehicles and also a consumer experience to match," Ford's Americas President Mark Fields said.
Alvarez said Ford wants dealers to upgrade services and offer perks like delivery of vehicles to buyers' homes.
He said the move will be tough for some dealers, particularly those outside the market areas, but he said it's necessary to make Lincoln an effective competitor. Lexus, for example, has only 230 U.S. dealers, even though it saw more than twice the sales Lincoln did in the first part of this year.
"You have to be optimistic about these things," Alvarez said. Lincoln sales have been lackluster in recent years despite new cars. Lincoln's sales peaked in 1990 at 231,660, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. Last year, Ford sold 82,847 as buyers looked to other luxury brands like Lexus and BMW.
Ford is under pressure from dealers to replace the volume they'll lose when the company phases out its long-struggling Mercury brand at the end of this year. Ford has around 270 Lincoln-Mercury dealers, and many relied on Mercury for more than half their sales. Some have already closed.
Ford plans to release seven new or revamped Lincolns in the next four years, including Lincoln's first compact car.