Their F&I numbers always seem to lead the pack on the Ward's Dealer Business 500 rosters - and for good reason.

For a dealer network, the V.T. (Van Tuyl) organization is as committed to superior F&I performance as any F&I provider and arguably more so than any rival dealership group.

That concentration by owners Cecil and Larry Van Tuyl stands out on the latest 500.

Of the 23 V.T.-owned dealers on the list, 19 raked in F&I income exceeding $3 million last year. By contrast, only one out of every six dealers on the 500 did as well, whether individually owned or part of chains like privately owned V.T.

"Finance and insurance is a key part of the vehicle sales package at V.T.," says Darrell McCutcheon, partner-general manager of Reliable Chevrolet in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, TX.

"Sales and profit goals are tied to each vehicle sale in both the showroom and F&I," says Mr. McCutcheon, who has been operating chief at Reliable since 1992. "Our 12 F&I salespersons are rewarded for CSI ratings as well as skills in adding products to each transaction, such as extended service contracts and credit insurance."

Across town, at Westway Ford in Plano, TX, the highest-ranked V.T. dealer on the Ward's 500, F&I manager Mike Wilson says installation of the V.T. F&I system "dramatically" boosted F&I penetration per vehicle sale in 1999 from 1998.

"About $400 per unit was added last year as we rolled to $7.1 million in F&I sales," says Mr. Wilson. "V.T. installed a new management team, led by Steve Starnes, after they bought the store in December, 1998, and the first thing changed was the F&I staff."

Mr. Wilson, recruited from an AutoNation-owned Ford store in Fort Worth, TX, and his crew went to the unique V.T. F&I school in Kansas City - a novel training process for any dealer network.

Says Mr. McCutcheon, "What's emphasized is giving a consistent presentation that covers all the products and shows how value is added to the deal with a balloon note, service contract, credit life and disability, whatever.

"Cecil and Larry have hewed to the customer-minded approach in the entire sales process long before it became popular with other dealer networks, and it has paid off in higher remuneration for our personnel and top-of-the-market customer satisfaction numbers, as well."

To avoid the common F&I malady of "burnout," considering the long hours and concentration involved, V.T. separates its F&I teams into three separate entities: new, used and "special finance."

The training academy is kept busy with mandatory sessions lasting up to one week, as managers watch how their team members learn the long-refined V.T. points on presentation, value-selling and full disclosure.

Although Westway Ford and Reliable Chevrolet, like other V.T. dealers, use captives Ford Credit and GMAC as preferred providers, respectively, other bank and subprime lenders are checked out, as well, in order to find the most customer-beneficial rates. Texas is a rare state that imposes a property tax on leases. So, balloon-note loans are preferred as a substitute, a fact that heightens salability of credit insurance and extended service contracts.

As a result, Westway Ford reached penetration of 89% service contracts on new cars and 72% on new trucks last year, results typical of a network where F&I is part and parcel of the selling process, rather than an afterthought.

V.T.'s 23 dealers on the Ward's 500, with their F&I revenues and percentages of total income for 1999, are as follows (with all dollar figures in millions):

Westway Ford, Irving, TX, $7.1, 3.9%; Reliable Chevrolet, Richardson, TX, $6.8, 4.2%; Camelback Toyota, Phoenix, $6.0, 2.7%; Showcase Honda, Phoenix, $5.0, 3.2%; Reliable Chevrolet/Mercedes-Benz, Springfield, MO, $5.0, 3.8%; ABC Nissan, Phoenix, $6.5, 5.0%; Trophy Nissan, Mesquite, TX, $7.0, 5.4%.

Vandergriff Chevrolet, Arlington, TX, $4.9, 3.8%; Toyota of Richardson, TX, $3.6, 2.9%; Van Chevrolet, Scottsdale, AZ, $5.4, 4.5%; Pinnacle Nissan/Infiniti, Scottsdale, AZ, $5.0, 4.2%; Showcase Pontiac-GMC, Phoenix, $4.6, 4.1%; Crest Autogroup (Cadillac-Isuzu-Kia), Plano, TX, $6.9, 6.3%; Cerritos Nissan, Cerritos, CA, $5.2, 5.2%; Van Chevrolet, Carrollton, TX, $3.1, 3.2%.

Grand Prairie Ford, Grand Prairie, TX, $4.1, 4.4%; Reliable Chevrolet, Tulsa, OK, $4.3, 4.7%; Showcase Chevrolet, Dallas, $2.9, 3.5%; Reliable Toyota/Lexus/BMW, Springfield, MO, $1.6, 2.2%; Gwinnett Place Ford, Duluth, GA, $3.0, 4.2%; Miles Chevrolet/Nissan, Decatur, IL, $2.6, 3.7%; Huber Chevrolet, Omaha, $1.4, 2.0%, and Reliable Chevrolet, Albuquerque, NM, $2.8, 4.5%.

At deadline we had not received statements from the following dealerships that likely would have made the Ward's Dealer Business 500.

* Don Bohn Ford, #96 last year

* Atlanta Toyota (#99 last year)

* Covington Pike Toyota (#101 last year), - Scottsdale Lexus (#173 last year).

* Longo Toyota and Longo Lexus

* Bill Collins Ford, #13 last year

* Leif Johnson Ford, #22 last year

* Kendall Toyota, #27 last year

* Phil Long Ford of Denver, #41 last year

* Richardson Ford, #74 last year

* Gray-Daniels Ford, #89 last year

* Freedom Ford, #111 last year

* Kayser Ford, #131 last year

* Lee Auto Mall, #141 last year

* Lexus of Kendall, #149 last year

* McCluskey Chevrolet, #196 last year