Japanese auto companies, which once resisted megadealer ties, are drawing closer to the publicly owned networks.

For example, United Auto Group appointed a separate administrator for its Toyota/Lexus dealers, while CarMax Auto Superstores purchased a Nissan franchise as an addition to its used-vehicle facility in White Marsh, MD, a Baltimore suburb.

UAG Chairman Roger S. Penske, says the appointment of 22-year Toyota Motor Sales executive Bernard W. Wolfe to head UAG's Toyota/Lexus relations as a senior vice president, will "enhance UnitedAuto's relationships with our manufacturer partners."

UAG operates 10 Toyota and three Lexus franchises. Like other megadealer networks, UAG faced suits filed in 1997 by Toyota Motor Sales, American Honda and Nissan North America Inc. The import companies had sought to limit the number of franchises which dealership groups could own in high-volume markets.

Toyota and Honda settled out of court in 1998, Nissan this year. The three agreed to work with the dealership groups in addressing the companies' concerns over brand "devaluation."

Mr. Wolfe's most recent positions at Toyota have been general manager of the Portland. OR, region and national general manager of Toyota's' truck/sport utility vehicle team.

Meanwhile, CarMax acquired the Nissan franchise for its White Marsh superstore from Town & Country Pontiac Nissan, Perryhall, MD. It has two other Nissan franchises - one at the CarMax Auto Mall, a nine-franchise dealership in Kenosha, WI, and the other in its superstore in Greenville, SC.

At Laurel, MD, in the largest CarMax superstore, Mitsubishi vehicles are sold, with a CarMax-owned Toyota franchise located nearby.