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It's not clear what SVT vehicles, if any, will follow the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500. Ford says it is not backing away from performance products.

Ford offers SVT to all its dealers

Amy Wilson | | Automotive News / March 20, 2006 - 6:00 am

DETROIT - Beginning with this summer's introduction of the 2007 Shelby GT500, the Ford brand will let all its dealers sell Special Vehicle Team vehicles.

Now, only a limited number of SVT-certified dealers can sell the high-performance vehicles.

The change could help Ford sell more high-performance cars and trucks. But some SVT dealers are crying foul.

Meanwhile, after a two-year product drought for the SVT brand, its future is up in the air, sources say. It is not clear what, if any, products are slated for SVT beyond the GT500, and Ford has declined to talk about its plans.

Ford has about 600 full-line SVT dealerships; 700 others were certified for the now-discontinued SVT Focus. Beginning with the GT500, Ford will no longer limit the number of available certifications. Certification requirements will be different for each product. The Ford brand had 3,777 U.S. dealerships on Jan. 1.

"This will further strengthen the Ford brand by providing us with a greater opportunity to drive showroom traffic," wrote Darryl Hazel, president of Ford's customer service division, in an e-mail to dealers.

Ford says it's not backing away from performance products. Some sources say Ford is folding the SVT marketing team into the regular Ford brand team. Some also expect SVT's engineering team may be diluted or tied more closely to Ford's racing efforts.

That would be a remarkable about-face for SVT vehicles, which went on sale in 1992. Just a year ago, Ford's product chief, Phil Martens, said SVT was bigger and better-funded than ever before. Martens, who has since left Ford, said SVT would eventually have up to five products.

Product canceled

One of the new products was to be the Ford Sport Trac Adrenalin in 2007. But Ford canceled the Adrenalin as part of its Way Forward turnaround plan. Ford previously dropped plans for a next-generation F-150 Lightning.

SVT products typically sell for higher profits and at lower volumes - for instance, an average 7,260 units per model year for past SVT Mustangs. Ford has sold 144,994 SVT vehicles since 1992.

Ford spokeswoman Whitney Drake said the SVT organization is working on "several future projects that we aren't ready to talk about just yet." She wouldn't say whether the SVT name will be carried forward beyond the GT500.

The SVT name already is diminished on the GT500, where the logo appears on the door sills. SVT is not included in the GT500 nameplate.

Ford is committed to performance, Drake said. Hau Thai-Tang, who had been a protege of Martens, remains director of advanced product creation and SVT.

Even though SVT dealers will get extra allocation of the GT500, some are upset to lose exclusive access to the high-margin products.

"It's a terrible mistake," said Beau Boeckmann, vice president of Galpin Motors Inc. in North Hills, Calif., which has had a full-line SVT business.

"You had a group that was very focused. They really understood the value of the product."

Making that product available to all dealers will dilute the power of the SVT brand, Boeckmann said. He cited the SVT Focus, sold from 2001 to 2004, as an example. When it was made available to an extra 700 dealers, "people sold it off like it was just a common Focus."

But another full-line SVT dealer said Ford's move might boost the automaker's overall performance business, increase volume and help the brand. Tom Addis, chairman of the Ford national dealer council, said opening SVT up to all dealers should allow Ford to market the products better.

Addis, dealer principal at Lake City Ford in Couer d'Alene, Idaho, said, "The concern has always been: If you have a product that most dealers can't sell, you're limited in how you can advertise it nationally."
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