Ross Roberts, a longtime Ford Motor Co. division general manager and strong supporter of fleet sales, died Wednesday at his Bay Harbor, Mich., home. He was 75.

When Roberts retired from Ford after a 37-year career, he left a legacy as a "great leader and great friend," Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement. Ford credited Roberts with helping the company become the top car and truck brand in the U.S. and transforming Ford's dealer network. Roberts retired in 1999 as vice president.

Roberts joined Ford in 1962, following as honorable discharge as a U.S. Army lieutenant. He initially served as vice president of Lincoln Mercury sales and marketing. After two years, he was appointed vice president of sales and marketing at Ford Division, a role he held for 10 years. He served as general manager from 1991 to 1998.

During his tenure with Ford, Roberts was a staunch supporter of the automaker's fleet unit, said Ed Bobit, chairman of Bobit Business Media.

"He was a great friend to Automotive Fleet and a great supporter of the fleet industry," Bobit, who also founded Automotive Fleet.

Roberts was an affable contact in business dealings, and went out of his way to provide top-selling vehicles to the fleet industry. One such vehicle was the Ford Taurus sedan, which became the best-selling car in the U.S. for five years during the 1990s. Roberts had a receptive ear to the fleet industry in those years, said Bob Brown, Great Lakes sales manager with Bobit Business Media.

"He was always very comfortable with product availability concerns," Brown said. "He was always very much in fleet's corner."

In his last post at Ford as president of Ford Investment Enterprises, Roberts oversaw an attempt to overhaul the automaker's dealer network known as the Ford Retail Network. At the time, the company sold off-lease vehicles online.

Roberts was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2001. He leaves behind his wife Donna, three children, and four grandchildren.