Arthur Daley image banished from Ford's car showrooms

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THE SHEEPSKIN-CLAD car salesman is to be culled from the forecourt as one of the world's biggest motor manufacturers gives a softer edge to the hard sell.

A scheme designed to dispel once and for all the "Arthur Daley" image will see Ford sending its salesmen on special university courses to train them to be more sympathetic to the needs of its customers - particularly women.

The course, to be run in conjunction with Loughborough University, will be aimed at dealerships where the staff are not employed directly by Ford, but are responsible for selling its cars and dealing with the public.

"What we will be trying to do with our new course is to look at the differences between men and women, and then look at the different types of people within those groups," a company spokesman said. "It's about getting away from just bunging them a car; the idea is to sell people the car they really need. The course will look at things like how to deal with after- sales, how dealerships can respond to customers and the feedback they get from them."

For several years, Ford has been trying to cater its selling techniques to customers by educating dealers in the aspects of car design that different sorts of customers are interested in.

In broad terms, female customers are more interested in a car's safety and security, while a male customer will be more interested in technical specifications and performance. By training their dealers to identify a particular type of buyer and their particular interests and needs, Ford hopes to make the whole business more professional.

The car-sales industry has long suffered from an image problem, epitomised by such TV anti-heroes as Arthur Daley in Minder, and Frank Butcher in EastEnders. While these anti-heroes are often perceived as lovable rogues, their real-life counterparts can have a negative effect on forecourt sales.

"We want people to be pleased with their car and to return in the future. Research shows that it becomes five times more expensive to get customers back if they have had a bad experience," said Ford.

Although the course at Loughborough is still in the planning stages, and the syllabus has yet to be finalised, Ford hopes to enrol its first students by the millennium.

The company already sponsors one degree course at Leicester University, the BSc in Retail Automotive Management (Ford), which is designed for senior staff. The management degree course offers a range of study options, including "Focusing on customers", "Successful selling", "Knowing your market" and crucially, "Advanced negotiating".

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