Domino's Pizza Inc., facing stiff competition and more demanding customers, is working with General Motors to build its own fleet of custom delivery cars.
The company is rolling out 100 test vehicles emblazoned with the Domino's logo and red-and-blue colors, as well as an oven in the rear that can keep pizzas warm during transit. Domino's plans to bring the cars to 25 markets, including Boston, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, New Orleans and Seattle, according to a statement Wednesday.
Domino's, the second-largest U.S. pizza company, is attempting to stay ahead of a fast-food industry where delivery is increasingly the norm. McDonald's, Taco Bell, Burger King and Starbucks are all experimenting with delivery services, bringing more competition to pizza chains. Though the modified-car program remains small, the idea is to use technology and custom features to give drivers an edge -- as well as creating a marketing tool that can roam city streets.
Domino's hired Roush Enterprises, the company building Google's self-driving cars, to retrofit GM's Chevrolet Spark models for the project. Chevrolet dealers also will be trained to maintain the pizza vehicles. The car was unveiled at the company's Ann Arbor, Michigan, headquarters during a meeting of the Automotive Press Association.
It's an unusual step for a company that tries to keeps costs down by operating small storefront locations and relying on employees' vehicles. But Domino's has credited technology -- including its mobile app -- with helping fuel growth. Same-store sales rose almost 11 percent domestically last quarter. The company ranks second to Pizza Hut in sales, according to Technomic.
"As people have tried to compete with us around the world in delivery, I think they have found out over time that it's operationally not as easy to operate as people may think," Chief Executive Officer J. Patrick Doyle said on a conference call this month. "And it has been a great source of advantage for us versus our competition."
The vehicles were designed over three years with input from former GM executive Kenneth Baker, who worked on the development of that automaker's first modern electric car, the EV1. The so called DXP has a seat for the driver -- the rest of the small car's seats are removed -- and an interior that's designed to hold food items, including as many as 80 pizzas. The warming oven is accessible from the side of the gasoline-fueled vehicle, and there's a "puddle light," which projects the Domino's logo on the ground.
Even with the push into custom vehicles, the primary mode of delivery will remain employees' personal cars, the company said. The chain has more than 5,100 U.S. locations, most of which are franchised. That means independent owners would have to embrace the DXP concept for it to expand.
Domino's says its delivery drivers cover 10 million miles each week in the U.S., doling out more than 400 million pizzas annually. The chain introduced tracking technology in 2008 that allows customers to follow the progress of their order. Domino's also lets people order via Twitter, text messages and smartwatches -- technologies that other chains haven't yet adopted.