Last year, Ford asked its 3000 US dealers to make a choice — agree to upgrade your facilities to support the EV revolution or forego the opportunity to sell electric cars from Ford. The company gave them a short window to make the decision. Fish or cut bait was the message. Speaking at the Automotive News World Congress in December last year, Ford CEO Jim Farley said 1,920 Ford dealers had enrolled in the Model e program for 2024-2026.
Of those, 1,659 opted into the highest level, “certified elite,” which gives them full sales and service capabilities and requires a higher investment level. Another 261 dealers opted to become “certified” with full service capability, a cap on how many EVs they can sell, and a lower investment requirement. Those who didn’t sign up this time around will get another opportunity to do so in 2026. “We’re betting on the franchise system. Now the largest luxury brand in the United States [Tesla] didn’t,” Farley said. “And we’re betting on the dealer council process.”
Now comes the word that 53 of the dealers who signed up for the “certified elite” program have withdrawn their applications while 24 dealers have joined the “certified” program. Ford has recently amended the requirements for the top tier by eliminating the provision called for them to have chargers available to the public 24 hours a day (a lot of dealerships have fences that are locked when the store is closed). In addition, Ford removed the provision requiring dealers to sell a minimum of 25 electric vehicles a year in order to participate at the “certified” level. Apparently several dealers are wary about being able to sell that many EVs, which gives you some idea of how little they believe the EV revolution is actually happening.
“It is important that dealers have the option to do what they believe is best for their business and their customers for the 2024-2026 period. As we continue to scale our EV volumes, our second enrollment period will open up for 2027-2029,” a Ford spokesperson told Automotive News.
North Carolina Ford Dealers Rebel
There are rumblings of mutiny out on the hustings, however. 46 North Carolina Ford dealers have filed a petition challenging the Model e Certified programs with that state’s commissioner of the division of motor vehicles. “The dealers waited to see what changes Ford would make to the Model e program at NADA, and unfortunately, those changes were insufficient to address these dealers’ concerns,” Shawn Mercer, who represents the dealers, told Automotive News. “It was not enough to address the unlawful aspects of the program or to remove the valid concerns about excessive intrusion by Ford into dealer’s day to day operations.”
That petition reads in part, “Through the EV program, Ford seeks to coerce dealers into expending huge sums of money unnecessarily in order to continue selling vehicles they are already authorized to sell. Ford’s EV program will serve to reduce the number of Ford dealers in North Carolina and further restrict consumer access to electric vehicles, particularly those citizens residing in parts of North Carolina outside of the largest cities.”
Before you get all teary-eyed about those poor North Carolina dealers, consider this story from WSOC-TV. It says a customer of Mark Ficken Ford in South Charlotte agreed to buy a Ford truck for $74,000, but when he came back to pick it up, he was given a contract that totaled $117,000. The customer says his signature on the contract is a forgery. The matter is now in litigation.
In Mississippi, meanwhile, the governor of that state has recently signed legislation designed to protect the good people of the Magnolia State from the scourge of electric car companies selling electric cars through a “store” instead of regular dealerships. It just so happens that Tesla has a “store” in Mississippi, but is not a franchise dealer. The state’s auto dealers have exerted their considerable influence over the legislature to get the new law passed.
“We’re saying if you choose to have a brick-and-mortar dealership, you have to follow the same laws that everyone else has to follow,” senator Daniel Sparks said according to the Associated Press. “Please don’t tell me Tesla’s car doesn’t identify as a car.” His colleague, Joey Fillingane, said the bill could cause Mississippi to fall behind other states in the race to attract investment from electric car companies. “Maybe we just like being last all the time. Maybe it’s a badge of honor — we’re the last ones to change. If we’re not careful … we could deprive our citizens of opportunities they really ought not to be deprived of.”
Mississippi wants to enshrine the divine right of dealerships to haggle with customers like rug merchants in a bazaar regardless of whether they are selling electric or conventional cars. Sure, there are some who think they can beat the dealers at their own game, even though the dealers make the rules and have been playing the game for the better part of a century. They know “It’s not the deal you got; it’s the deal you think you got.” Dealers have a million and one way of making you think you got a great deal, while in the back room they are joking about what a schlub you are and laughing all the way to the bank.
It’s all about power. The dealers have it and are doing everything they can to hold onto it. For manufacturers, building cars to order is more efficient and therefore more profitable. Filling dealer lots with unsold cars is simply a wasteful way of doing business. An oft quoted adage in the sales game is “You can’t sell from an empty wagon,” and there is some truth to that. People like to see well stocked shelves and acres of new cars just waiting for the right buyer. But isn’t the internet truly the ultimate well stocked wagon? Every vehicle anyone could possibly want is there online, just a click away.
Some thought the franchise dealer model would fade away long before this, but they underestimated the enormous power car dealers have when they spread all that campaign cash around the halls of government. Even Elon Musk has been unable to blunt the power of dealers in many states.
The car business is changing, but slowly, as those franchise dealers get dragged kicking and screaming into the brave new world of electric car marketing. The question we have here at CleanTechnica is, what are all those Ford dealers who don’t want to sell electric cars going to do when Ford is making only electric cars? Perhaps they will ask for a government bailout. That’s the American Way.
I don’t like paywalls. You don’t like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind it. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don’t like paywalls, and so we’ve decided to ditch ours.
Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It’s a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or perhaps even — gasp — grow. So…