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From the Detroit Insider:

Prominent Ford dealer rides into sunset

Reynolds 'burned out' after turning Texas firm into one of the biggest dealerships in nation.

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

One of Ford Motor Co.'s most prominent and respected dealers is hanging up his Stetson.

After 15 years as head of Prestige Ford in the Dallas suburb of Garland, Texas, Jerry Reynolds is selling his interest in the dealership, saying the business just isn't fun anymore -- particularly for dealers of domestic brands like Ford.

Under Reynolds' leadership, Prestige became one of the biggest Ford dealerships in the nation, often claiming the title of top dealership in Texas and sometimes selling more F-150 pickups than any other U.S. dealership.

Reynolds served two turbulent terms as national chairman of the Ford National Dealer Council. As a result, he found himself in the middle of some of the most contentious issues facing Ford in recent years -- including the Firestone tire controversy, the automaker's ill-fated plan to buy and run dealerships and the rift between dealers and Ex-Ford CEO Jacques Nasser.

But even in Texas, interest in the big trucks and SUVs that were Prestige's bread and butter is waning. Reynolds' dealership sold about 4,100 cars and trucks last year, compared with about 9,000 five years ago. He cut his staff from about 400 in 2001 to less than 200 today.

Reynolds, 48, is not giving up the car business entirely. He will continue to host his auto advice show on a local AM radio station, work as a consultant and even plans to pen a book about his experiences. The working title? "Not All Liars Are Car Salesmen."

He took some time Wednesday to talk to The Detroit News about his experiences and perspectives on the U.S. automotive industry:

Q : Why did you sell your stake and get out of the dealership business?

A : Honestly, I think I finally just burned out. The Texas economy has been very difficult for several years, and I was tired of fighting it.

Having a huge store, then downsizing it was a much more difficult job than I thought. This was about me. My partners have been very good to me. Ford has likewise been good to me and, as I said to a reporter after meeting (Ford Americas Group President) Mark Fields, I felt better about the future than I had in a long time. Ford has a plan, and they are sticking to it, and I believe they are on the right track.

Q : You said it ceased being fun. Why?

A : I enjoyed building Prestige Ford. We went from last place in Dallas to No. 1 in Texas. In April of 2002, we beat Galpin (the largest Ford dealership in the world) and were No. 1 in the country. All that was fun. Going from 400 employees to under 200 was not fun.

Q : Can you reflect on your time as a major Ford dealer? You have been quite involved in some of the major issues that have challenged the automaker over the past couple decades, from the controversial tenure of Jacques Nasser to Mark Fields and his turnaround plan. What wisdom can you share about the industry?

A : I got a nice e-mail from Jac yesterday, actually. It's been a fun ride. I got involved in the dealer council process because I was so angry about Ford buying dealerships and competing with its dealers. I'd always wanted to help the dealers and represent them.(Those were) very difficult times, and dealer relations were at an all-time low. It's funny now, but Ford and the dealers were both making money hand over fist, yet neither side was satisfied.

Q : What about the Firestone tire saga? You were the head of the dealers council when much of that was unfolding.

A : Firestone was a tough one because it took so much of my time. Ford did a lot of things right with Firestone and never got any credit for it. Nobody today really knows how much Ford spent trying to do the right thing when it should have been Firestone footing the bill. The dealers deserved a lot of credit for saving Explorer.

Q : What about dealer issues like the controversial "Blue Oval" plan, which offered preferential terms to dealerships that met higher standards set by Ford?

A : I endorsed the Blue Oval plan only after making a ton of changes to it. The FDA (Ford Dealer Advertising Funds) and some other dealers thought I was the anti-Christ, but looking back, it was a really good program that took Ford's (customer satisfaction) ratings to another level and made the dealers a ton of money.

I'm most proud of being on the forefront of FordDirect (the automaker's online sales site) and also for the start of today's used car certification program.

Q : How worried are you about Ford's future?

A : It's a product-driven business, there's no doubt. But (reporters) have a short memory. A few years ago, Ford was being praised for (having) the most broad range of trucks and SUVs. Toyota and Nissan rushed to catch up. Gas goes to three bucks a gallon, and now Toyota and Nissan are geniuses and Ford and Chevy are idiots.

Q : Is there any stopping Toyota?

A : Absolutely. And that's nothing against them. I have much respect for Toyota. But they'll get too big and make mistakes. They'll either get greedy and price their cars too high or decontent them. Or they start messing with their dealers. Whoever's turn it is to have the hot hand always does.

Q : Where do you see the Big Three in 10 years?

A : I see them all three healthy, but much smaller companies.
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