Ford Wants More Car Buyers to Order Online and Wait, Rather Than Pick Off the Lot

Ford Wants More Car Buyers to Order Online and Wait, Rather Than Pick Off the Lot

Ford Motor Co. wants to put you into a new car—in six to eight weeks.

In a shift in the way it sells vehicles, Ford plans to do a bigger portion of its sales by having buyers order from the factory and wait, rather than pick from the selection available at the dealership.

Company executives say efforts to shift more of Ford’s auto retailing operations to a so-called build-to-order model, where people custom-order online and take delivery at the dealership, would help cut inventory costs for the company and its dealers. It would also help Ford to deliver more vehicles that customers specifically want, while weeding out the hard-to-sell models that end up collecting dust at dealerships and lead to profit-sapping discounts, they say.

The approach, which was outlined to Wall Street in July and is being implemented now, is a departure from the way vehicles have been sold by car companies and dealers in the U.S. While dealers and analysts see potential benefits, they also flag risks, notably the prospect of losing market share if shoppers who aren’t willing to wait simply go elsewhere.

“Customers like immediate satisfaction,” said Don Johnson, who ran General Motors Co. ’s U.S. sales operation early last decade and now advises auto companies on their retail strategies.

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