At a time when few car dealers are offering price breaks or incentives on new or used vehicles, Ford Motor Co. is launching a new program that sweetens the deal for used car buyers in the digital marketplace.
Beginning in February, Ford will offer a 14-day/1,000 mile money-back guarantee, which the company touts as the best offer from any major automaker.
"We’re making the buying experience a little bit better," Andrew Ashman, used vehicle manager for Ford, told the Free Press on Thursday.
"If you find the vehicle you love or you like, and you get it home and you find out it’s not the right vehicle, you can bring it back and get your money back," he said. "That just kind of creates that peace of mind, that when you do buy from a Ford dealer you’re not only buying a quality vehicle but you’re making sure it fits your lifestyle."
The automaker tested the guarantee over the summer with 16 dealers in Michigan, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Missouri and Illinois, Ashman said.
"We wanted to understand ... would it help grow our business? Those dealers grew at a much faster rate than other dealers. While customers appreciate opportunity, very few customers felt the need to return the vehicle," he said.
The online site fordblueadvantage.com lists 20,000 to 25,000 certified used vehicles and, of those, about 20% are non-Ford products, Ashman said.
Online consumers can search Ford dealership used car inventory by car brand, model and price as well as ZIP code.
While designed primarily for online shopping, the money-back guarantee also applies to in-person shopping at the 1,600 or so dealerships that participate in what's called the Ford Blue Advantage program — just over half the Ford dealerships nationally.
This program allows potential customers nationally to search for Ford and non-Ford vehicles online, allows for home delivery, an at-home test drive and a video walk-around of the vehicle.
Tight market, few options
Car shoppers have been frantically trying to find anything available in a market not being replenished because of parts shortages and supply chain disruption. Used car prices are climbing as a result.
The automaker is working with Autotrader as a technology partner to run the listing site, and reports a traffic increase for Ford certified used cars of 26% over the past year.
By offering incentives, Ford is hoping to capture online shopping dollars while also building and maintaining relationships with its dealers, Ford said.
In a market where people are snapping up everything, the guarantee offers a bit of comfort to used-car buyers who may worry about the potential for a defective vehicle with an uncertain history.
Helping Ford stand out in crazy market
"Now you go to a car dealership and they're lucky if they have any new cars to offer," said Karl Brauer, executive analyst for the iseecars.com shopping site. "Typically, they have far more used cars that have nothing to do with the sign hanging over the dealership. Now if it's a Ford dealer and you've got a non-Ford used car, you can still get Ford coverage? That will give people more confidence."
People don't like to change brands but this allows buyers to have a relationship with Ford even if they do switch brands.
Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds.com said the competitive market requires a program "to have some sort of sizzle." Just pushing a website doesn't really work, especially because online shopping is so easy for everyone.
"It's so tight in terms of pricing and inventory," she said. "Wherever you can find a vehicle, I think, is where you're buying it. But incentives are few and far between now. This stands out in the market. And it keeps your retail market more cohesive."
Now is a time for automakers to explore new avenues of retailing that work to maintain and build relationships as more and more car buyers move to digital shopping, Caldwell said.
How certification works
The Ford Blue Advantage inspection program is expected to cover up to 90% of the used-vehicle inventory, Ford said.
This latest perk expands the consumer safety net.
The feature comes in addition to inspection by trained technicians, an extended warranty after purchase and a clean history report from Carfax.
Ford offers two warranty levels for its vehicles, one that covers Ford only and the other covering Ford and non-Ford vehicles:
Gold Certified Ford brand vehicles come with a 12-month/12,000-mile (whichever comes first) comprehensive limited warranty and a seven-year/100,000-mile powertrain limited warranty. Dealers can certify these Ford-only vehicles for up to six years and at fewer than 80,000 miles.
Blue Certified Ford and non-Ford vehicles are 10 years old or newer with 120,000 miles or fewer and come with a 90-day/4,000-mile comprehensive limited warranty coverage. This level allows dealers to certify vehicles up to 10 years and at less than 120,000 miles.
Both levels come with 24/7 roadside assistance.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ford Blue Advantage to give used vehicle buyers money-back guarantee