Ford Motor Co. says it hopes to expand the number of dealerships owned by Hispanic Americans by 50 over the next five years as part of a partnership between the automaker, Latino Initiatives for the Next Century (LINC) and Millennium LMI.

Ford's current minority dealer program offers loans to qualified dealer candidates that cover 90% of the cost to set up shop. LINC and Millennium will put up as much of the other 10% as needed.

So far, nine Hispanic dealers have been placed in dealerships this year. Among them are Clarence Kahlig of North Park Lincoln Mercury in San Antonio, TX, Gustavo Palmera of Superior Ford in Uniontown, PA and Jaime Vergara of Tennessee's Cookville Automotive.

“The fact is, independent Hispanic dealers, adequately capitalized and effectively managed, are essential to the successful marketing and sales of Ford products,” says George Frame, Ford's director of dealer development. “This partnership creates a program providing qualified Hispanics with resources that help them become economically self-sufficient through ownership of a Ford Motor Co. dealership.”

These dealerships won't necessarily be in Hispanic communities. “We're looking for good investments so we try to match people with the right opportunity,” says Mr. Frame.

Candidates come from the pool of students from Ford's one- and two-year minority training programs.

Each of the new Hispanic dealers purchase existing franchises as they become available.