What does a car rental company do with its older vehicles when it turns over the fleets?

Thrifty Inc. has come up with a novel approach. The company is franchising its name under Thrifty Car Sales, and signing up dealers. Their supply of used cars would partially come from Thrifty Car Rental fleet turnovers.

Thrifty dealers would get 15-20% of their inventory from Thrifty Car Rental, which buys about 50,000 cars a year, says Jay Betz, president of Thrifty Car Sales.

But there's no minimum number they must buy from Thrifty. Those vehicles are one- to five-years-old with mileage averaging 60,000 miles, but not exceeding 80,000, says Mr. Betz.

"We'd like to be able to market cars well enough so that the dealers will want to buy from us," he says. Otherwise, it's up to the dealers to acquire their own stock once they acquire the Thrifty franchise.

Mr. Betz expects a total of 60 Thrifty dealerships to be operating by year's end.

Currently 10 Thrifty used-car stores are operating in Colorado, Florida, Illinois and Texas.

That's short of the original goal of 40 dealerships Thrifty expected to have franchised by the end of 1999.

Not to worry, says Betz.

"Our target of 40 locations in 1999 was simply arbitrary...," he says. "Clearly, year one was a development year for Thrifty Car Sales. This year we are well positioned for significant locational growth."

He adds, "We're targeting used-car dealers and new-car dealers who want to expand their used-car business."

Mr. Betz expects 50% of Thrifty dealerships will be owned by dealers with existing new-car franchises.

The Thrifty operations would be in adjoining or nearby buildings and sites.

Ford Motor Co. dealers in the New York area have lost a trusted business associate and friend with the retirement of long-time sales manager Robert Lusko.

He spent 40 years with the automaker, the last 17 heading Ford Div.'s sales operations in the New York region. Hundreds of Ford executives and dealers attended a gala retirement party a week later.

Dealers say they will remember Mr. Lusko's motivational skills.

"He is able to motivate all dealers, of all different sizes, toward the same goal - and make us believe we can reach it," says Ron Rosen, general manager and partner in the region's biggest Ford dealership, Oasis Ford in Old Bridge, NJ.

"Bob Lusko understands what it means to have to make the payroll on Friday," says Irving Rosen, Ron's father and partner. "He never loses perspective, he knows he's working for Ford Motor Co., but his knowledge and understanding of both sides is what makes him so respected and loved by the dealers."

Marvin Suskin, of Scarsdale Ford in Scarsdale, NY, says Mr. Lusko put him into business 25 years ago.

"He knows the dealers by name, he knows their families, and he watches out for them," says Mr. Suskin. "Bob is one of the most brilliant marketing people I have met. He has an intuition about future markets. He recognizes good and bad business practices. And he has no prejudices - everyone is equal."

No one in recent memory at Ford has such a long tenure as sales manager. When he took over as New York district sales manager - today's region was yet to be formed by the merger of three districts - the Ford dealer body was last among competitors in profitability, Mr. Lusko recalls.

Today, they are 250 strong, selling more cars and trucks than any of their competitors (175,000 annually), and just turned in record profits for the year.

During his tenure, Mr. Lusko and his team appointed more than 100 dealers and worked with more than 70 to construct new facilities that employed thousands of additional people throughout New York State and adjoining sections of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

Others in the auto industry recall Mr. Lusko as an innovative marketer. Especially memorable were his vehicle launches.

Mr. Lusko displayed a theatrical flair whenever he launched Ford cars and trucks in New York. Until he came along, no one had ever unveiled a car on the deck of an aircraft carrier. But there he was, directing the motoring press as they test-drove Ford's new midsize car, the Tempo, on the deck of the USS Intrepid, now a floating museum docked off Manhattan.

His associates also recall the 1990 introduction of the Ford Probe, at high noon outside the World Trade Center. Some 65,000 Wall Street workers showed up for a chance to win the sporty coupe.

Then there was the 1996 introduction of the redesigned Ford Taurus inside Radio City Music Hall, complete with Aretha Franklin serenading the car as it rose onto the stage from below, indoor fireworks and an audience of 6,000, including 2,000 couples who owned prior-model Tauruses.

Mr. Lusko and the Ford Div. team scored another first when the organizers of New York's famous St. Patrick's Day Parade agreed to include cars for the first time. But these were not just any cars. They were 150 emerald-green Windstar minivans that led the parade past a crowd numbering 2 million.

Mr. Lusko started with Ford at age 16 as a part-time tour guide at the company's legendary Rouge Complex. Not long afterward, young Mr. Lusko guided Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Henry Ford II through the massive automotive complex. He also showed the plant to actress Jane Russell.

A graduate of the University of Michigan, Mr. Lusko sold encyclopedias and was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force before landing his first full-time job with Ford in 1960 as a statistical clerk.

He held a number of positions at the company's headquarters in Dearborn, MI, before moving to Cleveland as general field manager. Mr. Lusko was first assigned to New York in 1973, then worked in Washington, D.C. He was named New York district sales manager in 1983 and New York regional sales manager in 1991.