How dedicated to Ford Motor Co. is Elizabeth Dwyer? She named her 1-year-old giant schnauzer Henry Ford, after trying different car names for the dog and deciding none worked.
Dwyer, 47, has been with Ford for 25 years, her entire working career. She is now the regional manager for Ford and Lincoln sales in a territory that encompasses 189 dealers in Western New York, Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Northeast Ohio. Dwyer has had that role since July 2012, responsible for vehicle sales, market share and customer satisfaction, as well as franchise-related matters.
The Long Island native has worked for Ford in a variety of jobs and locations over the years. In one previous assignment, she was responsible for parts, service and customer satisfaction efforts in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Central America.
Back in Western New York, Ford is a leading seller, thanks in part to a large dealer network – there are nine Ford dealers just in Erie and Niagara counties – and product loyalty stemming from the Ford stamping plant in Hamburg.
Dwyer is based in Pittsburgh and drives a red Explorer. During a visit to the Buffalo Auto Show, she offered her thoughts about how the Buffalo market stands out:
Matt Glynn: How is Western New York as a market for Ford?
Elizabeth Dwyer: Buffalo is a very important part of the region (I oversee). It’s a little bit more than 25 percent of the region’s Ford sales. We had a terrific year in 2013, we were up 17 percent on a year-over-year perspective from 2012 to 2013. That outpaced Ford’s performance nationally, which was 13 percent on a year-over-year perspective. We’re really pleased with how the Buffalo dealers did in 2013. The other thing that is a key measure is not just how many more vehicles we sold, but did we get our fair share of the market when we look at our market share performance. And we were able to increase by 1.2 [percentage] points from a year-over-year perspective. (Ford nationally) improved market share by only half a point.
MG: Why is this area a strong market for Ford?
ED: We really have a great dealer network. They’re very strong, very professional. They work really well together, particularly on the Ford dealer advertising board, to put together programs for customers for everything from incentives to being part of the community, whether it’s the Erie County Fair or whether’s it’s the Turkey Trot or the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. They’re really involved in the community. … The Ford Friendship Express (van donation program), no other dealer group does this in the United States. And when I told the (local) dealers about this, they were like, ‘Really, nobody else does this?’ We’re actually doing an internal article about what the (local) Ford dealers are doing.
MG: What are the foremost challenges dealers talk to you about?
ED: Obviously our world has changed when you look at how customers want to buy cars and you look at the digital world. Everybody’s got a cellphone, and it’s a smart phone, a lot of people have tablets. Customers aren’t looking at the TV anymore when they’re looking at a commercial. If a commercial comes on, they’re shopping on their tablet. And a lot of times, they want to shop for their vehicle, build their vehicle, on a tablet or on a PC. We just have to change with the way customers want to interface with us. Those are some of things that we’re working on with our dealers this year.
MG: We have a lot of Ford dealers in this market. Is there enough business to go around for all of them?
ED: There’s plenty of business to go around. My predecessor (John Schuldt) did a lot of work in consolidating the number of dealers in Buffalo to make sure that we had the right number of dealers in the marketplace to meet the customer demand. And what’s key about that is to make sure that they’re not just the right size, but they’re all profitable. Because if they’re profitable, everybody wants a business to make money, so they can reinvest in their business and be part of their community.
MG: The industry forecasts are calling for an increase in auto sales this year. Do your dealers feel that way?
ED: Absolutely. 2009 was really a downturn in the automotive industry. We’ve increased the number of vehicles sold in the U.S. year after year after year. Last year (industrywide) it was about 15.6 million total vehicles sold in the United States; we’re looking that it’s going to be probably about 16.5 million (this year). Those numbers are like the heydays of the early 2000s when we had an increase in vehicle sales. A couple of reasons for that. One reason is there is a little bit of pent-up demand: people have been waiting to buy cars and trucks. Housing is steadily improving, and that’s key with our brand of trucks, construction seems to be really picking up, as well. We are looking to grow our share of the business about 9 percent this year in Buffalo.
MG: Is leasing a big factor in new car sales?
ED: Leasing is extremely important, and it’s the entire industry, not just for Ford. But it’s extremely important for us to be competitive and offer competitive leases for our Ford products consistently over time so that customers have the choice to be able to get a Ford vehicle.
MG: Why is leasing so popular?
ED: They want something new every couple of years. And it’s a no-brainer because they don’t have to worry about long-term product costs.
MG: One of your past jobs involved supporting Ford in some overseas markets. What was that like?
ED: We’ve made a lot of investment in growing emerging markets like China, like India, like Brazil. And it’s important for us to get our fair share of the market in those countries. It’s not only getting brand recognition, but also putting in the infrastructure to support the customers once they buy the vehicle. You’ve got to be able to make sure they have the parts to maintain their vehicle, you have to have parts to fix their vehicle. And so it’s not just an investment of producing vehicles, but it’s all the other things that go with owning and servicing your car.