General Motors Corp.’s top-selling Chevrolet dealer group is closing all of its 13 dealerships this week, citing various reasons for the drastic measure.

Bill Heard Enterprises Inc. sold more than 40,000 new vehicles – most of them Chevrolets – in 2007 and was ranked 11th on the Ward’s Megadealer 100 this year with $2.2 billion in total revenue.

Related document: Ward’s 2008 Megadealer 100

W.T. Heard Sr. opened the group’s first dealership in 1919 in Columbus, GA. The group had dealerships in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas with more than 2,700 employees. All 13 of Heard’s stores ranked on the Ward’s Dealer 500 list this year.

A statement released by the company cites rising fuel prices, truck and SUV-laden inventory and the overall economic slowdown as reasons for going out of business.

Within the last couple of weeks, GMAC Financial Services stopped financing the inventory for several of Bill Heard’s stores, hampering the group’s ability to floor plan and order vehicles.

GMAC did not say why it did so, but several Heard stores have come under fire the last several years for a slew of allegations regarding violating business and ethical regulations in the states in which they operate.

GMAC reportedly threatened to pull its financing last year after Bill Heard sent 10,000 customers what appeared to be a recall notice but actually was a bid for service-department business.

Georgia’s Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs filed a $50 million deceptive-advertising lawsuit against the group’s four Georgia dealerships for the same offense. It was the first lawsuit filed by the OCA in its 32-year history against a dealership, according to a report in the Atlanta Business Chronicle last year.

The report also claims Bill Heard has paid more than $280,000 in fines to the state of Georgia since 1991.

Other states, including Florida, Texas and Arizona have been investigating the false recall notice claims, as well.

In early September, Bill Heard closed its Scottsdale, AZ, store which opened to great fanfare less than two years ago. And last year, the company sold its dealership in Antioch, TN, which at one time was selling more than 1,000 new and used vehicles a month.

GM likely will reopen several, if not all, of Bill Heard’s stores once buyers are found and the deals completed. GM spokeswoman Susan Garontakos says the auto maker will look to find new owners to keep the stores running.

In 2005, GM named Bill Heard one of its “Dealers of the Year,” an exclusive list of auto retailers demonstrating strong sales performance and customer service. Each of the 110 dealers on the list received the 2004 Jack Smith Leadership Award.

cbanks@wardsauto.com