Ford to offer $750,000 match for dealer investment

Ford Motor Co will offer dollar-for-dollar matching funds to its 3,100 U.S. dealers to upgrade their shops, from new construction to improved digital programs, Ford executives said on Sunday.

Jim Farley, Ford's global chief for sales, service and marketing, said he hopes all of Ford's U.S. dealers will participate.

Farley declined to say how much they expect Ford to spend on the program.

If all 3,100 dealers enroll and sign letters of intent in 2013 to make the upgrades, it could cost Ford as much as $2.33 billion in matching funds.

The offer is good for any upgrades planned during 2013, which must be approved by Ford, said Ken Czubay, head of U.S. sales, service and marketing for the Detroit-area automaker.

Ford will meet individually with dealers who have recently undertaken expensive upgrades, Czubay said.

The upgrade program is not tied to sales or performance of the dealers.

Farley emphasized that a "very significant portion" of the money Ford will spend will be to enhance customer digital experiences. Much of it will be spent to help customers use tablet computers to liaise with dealerships.

Most automakers have added an array of improvements over the past few decades to make customers more comfortable, such as plush waiting rooms with free food and beverages.

The Ford program is clearly not all about new construction, Czubay and Farley told reporters after a meeting of its dealers at the National Automobile Dealers Association annual convention.

"This is about making sure the customers (who) get in the store, get in the service department have a great experience," Farley said. "It's not about beautiful brand signs and what the dealership looks like on the outside."

(Reporting By Bernie Woodall in Orlando; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)