At age 82, Sonic Automotive Chairman O. Bruton Smith is not about to retire.

Stirred by the federal government's “Cash for Clunkers,” Smith led the dealership chain's charge into capitalizing on the selling potential of that program.

A website,, was initiated at Smith's behest even before the government issued operational rules and registered franchised dealers.

With a link to Sonic's 130 dealers, the website had millions of hits, says Jeff Dyke, a Sonic executive vice-president.

“We sold more than 400 vehicles over the kickoff weekend, all due to Bruton's sales savvy,” he says.

Sonic lost six GM dealerships and 12 franchises in the GM downsizing, but is hoping for a third-quarter resurgence because of the Clunker's program. Sonic ranks No.3 on the Ward's Megadealer 100 with total revenues last year of $7.2 billion.

Smith maintains an office, which he visits daily, in a Ford dealership near Sonic's headquarters in Charlotte, NC.

Sonic in its acquisition period of the late 1990s amassed as many as 175 stores. It is down to 135 because of the GM dealership retrenchment and Sonic's ongoing program to dispose of underperforming stores.

Sonic offset the new-vehicle slide by chalking up a 13% jump in used-car unit volume in the second quarter, reporting revenues of $1.39 billion, down from $1.75 billion a year earlier.

Sonic earlier this year warned of possible bankruptcy but avoided it in May when bondholders agreed to postpone $90 million in debt payment until 2012, in exchange for the interest rate increasing from 5.24% to 6%.