Donald E. Ervin began an 8:30 a.m. interview last week by quoting Henry David Thoreau: "Every human being is designed to succeed and not to accept failure."

He then rattled off a list of statistics on today's auto care industry: Ten percent of the cars in this country account for 40 percent of the nation's air pollution; proper tuning can improve mileage as much as 25 percent; and 78 percent of consumers are dissatisfied with the quality of auto care they receive.

Thoreau's philosophy and the cold hard facts of the U.S. auto industry have helped Ervin, chairman and chief executive of Sterling-based Precision Tune Inc. since 1987, maintain his company's status as the largest U.S. auto-care franchiser and increase revenue to $160 million in 1989 from $85 million in 1987.

Much of the company's expansion during the last 18 months has centered on Bethesda-based Capital Tune Inc., which operates 28 Precision Tune shops in the Washington area and owns franchises throughout the mid-Atlantic states.

Like all 522 Precision Tune operations, Ervin said, the new franchises are committed to stocking state-of-the-art equipment and hiring technicians and managers who recognize the importance of staying up-to-date.

"If you don't solely commit to the technical understanding of an automobile engine and devote all your resources to that, it's very difficult to be in the engine performance business," he said, explaining that he can't tell a spark plug from a starter but he understands people and what they need to care for their cars.

All new franchisees and managers attend two-week marketing and financing seminars at the Precision Tune Training Institute near corporate headquarters in Sterling.

Mechanics can volunteer for five-week technical workshops there or rely on a regional cooperative training program that employs 15 full-time roving trainers.

Those priorities are right on target, said Chuck Laverty, the New Jersey-based publisher of the newsletter Automotive Week.

With computerized, fuel-injected engines and strict federal emissions controls, Laverty said, consumers are increasingly relying on high-tech auto care centers and computer-equipped technicians.

"They recognize that it's the wave of the future, and they want to be there," Laverty said.

Ervin, 53, said the automotive care industry is much more enjoyable and profitable than his former career -- commercial banking in Northern Virginia -- has become in the post-deregulation era.

"The whole {banking} game just changed so much that after 28 years I just didn't have much fun in it anymore," he said.

"I thought, 'boy, the good are going to have to carry the bad in this industry when banks begin to fall because of management inexperience' ... But I'm having fun in the franchising business," Ervin said.

Bob Allbert, owner of the North Carolina sub-franchise Precision Franchising Inc. and a close friend of Precision Tune founder Bill Childs, said Ervin's career change enabled the company to adapt and expand with the industry.

"Bill Childs sold the company at a time that it had outgrown him," Allbert said.

"Ervin's a former banker who understands the numbers, and understands what the customer needs to be taken care of," Allbert said.

Capital Tune owner Michael Parker said Ervin's track record persuaded him to join the corporation last year as a sub-franchiser in the area. That means Parker has exclusive rights to buy any franchises in the area, in return for splitting revenue with the parent corporation.

"What we saw is a real strengthening of the infrastructure," he said, citing Ervin's focus on equipment, technicians and managers. "That's a real benefit to us."

And as the good times continue here, the party is moving overseas. A Taiwanese franchise is scheduled to open soon, and Ervin is in Europe to meet with French and West German investors about expansion opportunities.

"Everywhere there's evolving technology, there's a need for someone to take care of these cars," he said. "I get letters every day -- got one from Czechoslovakia just the other day."