LAS VEGAS - "It was a great year to be a car dealer, a Nissan dealer, a Vegas dealer and an AutoNation dealer." So says Don Forman, the general manager of Nissan West, reflecting on 1999.

As chief of operations for the AutoNation Inc.-owned store, Mr. Forman rattles off some of the many dealership numbers he so diligently keeps:

Gross revenues up 24.5% from 1998 to $96 million; gross profits, $13.9 million; net profit after bonuses and income taxes, $7.3 million; new-car and truck sales, 2,318 versus 1,942 units in 1998; used units, 3,242 versus 2,199 the year before.

The performance was solid enough to catapult Nissan West at least 100 places on the Ward's Dealer Business 500.

Nissan West's improvement is ironic, considering that Nissan Motor Co. had its problems last year.

Nissan had to be bailed out of financial difficulties by Renault SA during 1999, and the Japanese automaker's lineup of new vehicles had been hurt in the public eye by all the adverse publicity.

"It's true," Mr. Forman says. "The takeover stories were tough on Nissan, but we happen to be in Las Vegas, NV, one of only three Nissan stores in this fastest-growing city and with an owner base that's as loyal and smart about cars as any.

"But, in addition to the all-new units the company began introducing last summer, like Xterra and Maxima, we rolled out one of the best used-car reconditioning and marketing programs in the West. It jumped our pre-owned sales 50% and made us the used-car dealership of choice in Vegas."

Mr. Forman oversees a highly detailed tracking and marketing system for pre-owned units. The average turnover time for used units is two to three days, plus a day if work is needed in a stand-alone reconditioning building on the Nissan West campus on West Sahara Boulevard.

Every incoming used vehicle is categorized as "premium," "above average," "advertiser," or "wholesale."

"I learned the system of categorizing units and customers at the Doug Spedding dealerships in Denver," says Mr. Forman. "That model is still second to none."

Both new and used-unit shoppers and customers are tracked in finite detail, as well. Daily sales and "productivity" reports are kept on "ups" and their disposition, with salespersons organized into six teams named Cowboys, Rams, Bears, Giants, Jaguars and Raiders. The service department has four teams.

Meticulous counts are kept daily on customer traffic and how it was generated. Incoming calls are tracked as to how many showed up and how many bought cars.

Two F&I departments, one for prime and one for subprime, also keep highly detailed report forms, all of which are available to Mr. Forman at a moment's notice.

"I don't want to miss a beat on our customers, sales and inventories and what's happening in each category every single day," says Mr. Forman.

He lures customers with a $2.1 million annual ad budget which, besides the daily newspapers, covers the three top local TV stations on primetime programs and promotion of the city's Silver Bandits basketball team.

Seven days a week, Nissan West runs 40 to 60 classified ads of no more than three lines each in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Sun, covering all brands.

"It costs us $95 each to get 750 ups into Nissan West, or $166,000 in ads to draw 750. In addition, we're building a website, which I believe is the future of the car business.

"Our CSI ratings are high in a town which lives on customer satisfaction, but at the same time is a helluva place to live in and raise a family outside all that jazz on the Strip."

Mr. Forman, 33, is married with three children, ages nine to three.

Marcia Wolfe, Internet responder and former CSI director, tries to answer all hits within minutes - even from home on weekends. Nissan West got 125 "live" Internet hits in January, which produced 30-35 sales.

Nissan West also is developing a fly-and-drive program aimed at Las Vegas Strip visitors, offering a new car for delivery and driveaway from a casino hotel.

Several of AutoNation's other nine Vegas dealers, four of whom with Nissan West joined AutoNation when it purchased pioneer consolidator Cross-Continent Auto Retailers in 1998, may take part in the tourist delivery program.

"AutoNation under Mike Jackson (president and CEO since last fall) is on the cutting edge of developing and growing dealerships through the Internet," says Mr. Forman.

"We're very pleased with their new dealer philosophy. They shut a superstore in the new Valley AutoMall near Vegas last December, and that has helped our used-car sales. Our future -and theirs - is bright, just like the daily Vegas sunshine."