SAN FRANCISCO — Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO William Clay Ford Jr., who cancelled his 2000 NADA convention appearance on short notice in 2000, was all over the place at this year's gathering.

Ford delivered the convention's keynote address, spoke at a J.D. Power & Associates' conference associated with the convention, and hit the exposition floor to meet and greet dealers.

It seemed to pay off.

“I think he's good for the company,” says Beau Bockmann of Galpin Ford in North Hills CA, the world's largest Ford dealership. “He's always impressed me.”

NADA leaders said it was a “blow” when Ford withdrew as the 2000 keynote speaker, citing a scheduling conflict.

The real reason was thought to be a fear that Ford would take heat because his company at the time was buying dealerships in certain markets — a program that's since been put out of its misery.

It was much different this year as Ford made the rounds and in some cases tried to make amends as the company seeks to enhance its relations with dealers.

He says the auto maker's overall relations with its retailers is strong. “The feedback we get is terrific. We'll work with our dealer council on anything.”

He tried to put a bright face on plans to end cash rewards to Blue Oval dealers: “It will be around for a few more years, so have some fun with it.”