A debate in the dealer world is which draws better: naming the business after the owner or going with a "corporate" or geographical label.

Proponents of the personal approach believe a namesake identification with the dealer maintains a warmer image.

But with the emphasis on branding, there has been a swing away from the owner's name on the building.

New franchises like Lexus and Saturn went with non-personalized titles 10 years ago. Momentum has swung towards that choice even on renovated or rebuilt stores that previously displayed owners' names.

Accordingly, Dodge and Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep dealer Joe Ricci is doing a name switch on his four dealerships in metro Detroit and Boston.

He's converting to his corporate group's name and to the dealerships' city location.

In conjunction with a $2 million retrofitting of his flagship Dodge dealership in Dearborn, MI (also home of Ford Motor Co. world headquarters), Joe Ricci Dodge is now MotorQuest Dodge of Dearborn.

The other dealerships in the Ricci group are undergoing similar renamings - to MotorQuest C-P-Jeep of Southgate, MI; MotorQuest Dodge/Hummer of Melrose, MA, and MotorQuest Dodge of Wellesley, MA.

A fifth new store will be called MotorQuest C-P-Jeep of Woodhaven, MI.

Mr. Ricci says, "A new look like we have given this Dodge store in Dearborn is all but worthless without changes in the culture, furnishings, advertising and the name.

"Too many shoppers and customers would dismiss the renovation as 'the same old Joe Ricci' dealership. Motor-Quest is a strong new brand, so I swallowed my pride."

The new four-story building replaces an old two-story corner layout that could not be expanded laterally on busy Michigan Avenue.

A freight elevator big enough to carry two Durangos or four Neons carries inventory up and down.

Salespersons' desks have been moved to enclosed offices. The showroom has an ever-popular coffee bar.

Walls and ceilings have been repainted white, furniture is softer and the number of service stalls has been doubled to 18.

There's a customer "resources center" with a PC that provides specifications and price data on all cars, plus financing and leasing rates and loan application software.

Says General Manager H.R. (Renny) Coe, "In line with the new culture, we went off a salesperson commission basis to salary plus volume and CSI bonuses. But no one-price policy, which is unenforceable in a market as full of same-brand dealers as Detroit.

"We had to change about 40% of our eight-person new-car sales force because they couldn't adapt to salary over commission or to a non-aggressive approach to customers.

"But customers, even in blue-collar Dearborn, are better informed than they ever were because of the Internet, and we can't greet them in the old ways."

Mr. Coe has been with Mr. Ricci since 1996, when the dealer formed the MotorQuest Automotive Group with investors Joseph Antonini, retired chairman of K-Mart, and Rick Inatome, co-owner of computer and quick-printing businesses.

Mr. Ricci holds an engineering degree. He expects to boost his MotorQuest of Dearborn Dodge sales to 1,250 new and 600 used units this year from 1,100 and 500 in 1998.