On April 12, 2000, Ford North American Fleet, Lease, and Remarketing Operations became the first auto manufacturer to offer online fleet vehicle ordering. The first online order was placed by Scott Tucker, fleet operations manager for Overland West, a Hertz licensee, who electronically ordered two Tauruses.

Overland West was one of eight fleets and eight dealers that participated in a seven-week Build to Order pilot program from April 12 to May 31, 2000. During the pilot program, participating fleets configured and ordered 2000-model year Taurus and four-door Explorer lines for deliveries in the U.S.

The participating fleets were Ashland Inc., Church of Latter-Day Saints, Eaton Corp., Economy Rent a Car, Garst Seed Co., Hallmark Cards, Overland West, and USAA. Among the eight participating dealers were Jordan Ford, Pacifico Ford, and Piemonte National Fleet.

The Build to Order online vehicle ordering system resides on Ford’s password-protected Web site, www.fleet.ford.com. By logging into the application, fleet managers can view detailed specifications and ordering options for Ford Division models, configure vehicles, and store those configurations until they are ready to complete their order, said Sanjeev Dev, E-Commerce Manager for Ford Fleet. Dev points out that fleets will still buy their vehicles from dealers and not directly from Ford when using the Build to Order system. Build to Order requires dealers to set up pricing formulas for individual fleet customers, who are prompted with the negotiated price as they configure their vehicles.

Tucker said he believed that Overland West will save $46,000 during an annual ordering cycle by utilizing the online Build to Order program. “By assuming responsibility and execution of the orders, we anticipate savings by reducing our dealer fees in the acquisition cycle; however, this may fluctuate by the number of units ordered and the strength of our negotiating position,” said Tucker.

“The system promises to be a quick way for a dealer’s customers to get orders into Ford’s order bank without the lag time of mailing or faxing orders and then hoping that dealers punch them in the right way,” said Russ Cass, fleet truck manager for Piemonte National Fleet in Melrose Park, IL, who was also one of the eight dealers participating in the pilot program.

Mike Sims, vehicle fleet operations manager at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City, said the system gives accurate pre-negotiated pricing and saves time. “Rather than go to an outside source to specify a vehicle, we can now do that in one place online,” said Sims. “Another advantage is that I’m placing the order as I specify the vehicle. I don’t have to worry about it falling into a black hole, because it’s integrated with Ford’s system.”

The eight fleets participating in the pilot said they believed that the Build to Order application would reduce order entry errors and speed order-to-delivery, said Dev. In addition, fleet managers are able to view the status of orders online within 24 hours.

“The biggest benefits of Build to Order are knowing that when you order a vehicle, it will be on the system that day and you can double-check on how it is equipped and not have to worry that your order is on someone’s desk, waiting to be processed when they have time,” said Brad Plunkett, fleet manager for Garst Seed Co. in Slater, IA. “You can also check on the status of your vehicles daily, allowing you to let your drivers know when the vehicles are coming in.”

At the conclusion of the pilot program, Ford’s fleet e-commerce team incorporated the feedback from the participating fleet managers and dealers to develop Version 2.0 of Build to Order, which was unveiled to Ford customers at its 2001-Model Year Fleet Preview Show in Las Vegas last July.

In Version 2.0, most of the 2001-model year vehicles offered by Ford Division are available for online ordering via the Build to Order application. “Version 2.0 is very user-friendly,” said Debbie Mize, fleet manager for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, MO. Cass added, “It is as easy as clicking on screen choices and clicking 'submit' for the customer and the dealer receives confirmation via their in-house Ford computer system the next day showing what the customer has ordered.”

“One of the biggest advantages is that the system doesn’t allow you to order an unbuildable vehicle,” said Mize. Hallmark has ordered 30 Tauruses and Windstars via Build to Order using Piemonte National Fleet.

Fleet dealers likewise cited Version 2.0’s user-friendliness. “It is a pretty easy process,” said Deb Starkweather, fleet manager for Jordan Ford in Mishawaka, IN. “It will give us more time for our jobs because we will be spending less time placing orders.” Jordan Ford is the fleet dealer for Tomkins Industries, in Dayton, OH, which is participating in the Build to Order pilot program.

Cass believes that dealers will benefit from Build to Order because they will gain more time by not having to input orders and there will be less paperwork to file.

One initial concern was whether the Build to Order system would decrease dealers’ interaction with their fleet customers. “Communication with our fleet customers won’t be cut off,” said Starkweather. “There is always something that needs to be discussed: courtesy delivery dealers, an option that needs an explanation, and so on.”

Cass believes that dealer interaction with fleet customers will remain the same. “Attention will shift to other areas such as coordinating specs and drop locations to verify that what the customer has ordered is what they really wanted to order,” added Cass. “The dealer should still double-check the orders for accuracy. There are less problems in the long run if safety checks are implemented up front.”

How Build to Order Works

Fleet managers create customized configurations based on their specific fleet requirements. MSRP and dealer pricing are both displayed and changes made to the selected configurations trigger appropriate changes in pricing. For each configuration selected, interior and exterior colors can be changed, as well as the identity of the ship-to location, purchase order number, and driver or contact information.

Vehicle configurations can also be stored in the system for future use. The “Save Configuration” button allows a fleet to enter a unique name for a particular configuration, then store it for future access. Up to 100 configurations may be stored.

“I am able to build a ‘template’ of the vehicles we purchase regularly and save it in the system to simplify the next order of the same product,” said Sandy Payne, buyer, national contracts/light fleet for Tomkins Industries, who manages 600 vehicles. “Since we have established standard vehicles for use in our fleet, this feature has certainly streamlined the order process. Usually the only changes I have to make in the template are in exterior and interior colors.”

Once the vehicle configurations are completed, they are added to a “Shopping Cart.” The Shopping Cart contains all the line items on the order. Multiple line items may be created and added to the Shopping Cart. Shopping Carts may be saved for future reference.

When a fleet manager is ready to buy the vehicle, he or she can click on the "Submit Order" button. This also triggers an e-mail acknowledgment that is sent to the fleet manager’s computer stating that the vehicle order has been received.

“I like being able to print out a ‘hard copy’ confirmation of the order immediately for my records and to check for entry errors,” said Payne. “The system is pretty much fool-proof anyway, since it will not let you add options that are not appropriate.” Until the Submit Order button is selected, the order will not be complete.

What’s Next?

The next phase of development for Build to Order will be to enhance the online ordering process, such as giving both dealers and fleets an opportunity to review and receive an electronic invoice, letting fleets leave special instructions with their orders, and storing invoices for later viewing.

According to Dev, fleet managers have also expressed an interest for Ford to enhance the system by allowing drivers to order their company-provided vehicles.

Dev adds that fleet management companies have the option to continue to place orders as they have in the past or they can switch to the Build to Order system.