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We’re Back

Fresh from AFSA and NADA, the editor believes the auto industry is not only back, it’s strong and ready to push forward — and that goes for finance, too.

March 12, 2012

How do we make auto and auto finance relevant to Gen Y?” That was the question John Noone, former Ford Credit exec and current chairman of the board at the American Financial Services Association (AFSA), posed at the trade group’s Vehicle Finance Conference. It’s a great question, and one I hope you readers ponder.

That challenge is the focal point of this issue’s coverage of last month’s industry week, which included the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)’s convention. What’s clear is that the answer to Noone’s question will involve more than simply adding iPads to your processes.

I’ll let you take a look at our post-show package. What I’d like to do here is share a couple of key points that didn’t make the final cut.

The iDealer Movement: Scott Krenz, a senior executive for Asbury Automotive Group, caught my attention when he talked about how the organization has integrated F&I into sales at two stores in Virginia. The process is called “Customer First,” and, as I found out, it’s not just another name for the hybrid manager concept.

See, the company is trying to appease the Internet shopper’s call for faster transaction times, and the answer appears to be educating them early and often. So, it’s asking salespeople to start educating consumers about the F&I process the moment contact is made. So far, the strategy has cut transaction times to about two-and-a-half hours, and profit performance is in line with its other stores.

Social Selling: Have you ever thought of having your salespeople post links to credit apps on their personal Facebook pages? According to Phil Penton, founding partner at SOCIALDEALER, the tactic has worked really well for some dealers and their salespeople. Give it a try.

Sales for Clunkers: Used prices are expected to peak between April and June, which insiders say will be a good time for your customers to trade in their current vehicles. But there’s one problem with that, as TD Auto Finance’s Thomas Gilman pointed out: “People are coming back with the wheels falling off.”

The New Bubble: Did you know that 49 percent of loans originated in 2011 were for terms of 72 months or more? Did you know that loan-to-value ratios on subprime originations were tracking at 118 percent? Makes you wonder if we learned anything.

Truth is, auto finance sources have. They’re aggressive, but they’re being aggressive in the space they’re comfortable with, and, as I’m sure you’ll agree, we’ll need them to be that way to get more customers off the sidelines. Could this mean a return of full-spectrum financing? According to finance execs, no, it does not.

Rebuilding Auto Finance: The two biggest lessons the auto finance industry learned through the credit crisis were that it needs to 1) diversify and 2) get a better read on its customers. Those lessons were on display at the AFSA’s annual conference.

See, back in 2010, I reported on the NADA’s attempt to get the Small Business Administration (SBA) to help jumpstart dealer financing, which had collapsed the year before. It was a good plan, but not many sources understood or had the technology to manage the segment. That’s not the case anymore.

See, companies like DataScan are helping to change all of that. In fact, the company’s hardware division is providing the system that will run GM Financial’s dealer financing program to support General Motors dealers, while DataScan Field Services will be handling the captive’s dealer floorplan audits.

“I think [the crisis] raised awareness that an opportunity was created when companies exited the floorplan financing space,” said DataScan’s Brent Sergot.

Wells Fargo also has forged a relationship with GM to support its dealers. If you’re keeping count, that means GM has GM Financial, Ally, U.S. Bank and now Wells to lean on.

I also had an interesting conversation with Tom Wolfe and his executive team at Wells Fargo Dealer Services. See, Wolfe is now heading up what the bank is calling Wells Fargo Consumer Credit Solutions. They want to break down the walls between auto, student and home mortgage lending so the bank can be with each customer through every phase of their lives. It’s a loyalty drive, but I think this is the kind of change the industry will need if we face another crisis.

By the way, assuming Wolfe’s former post is Dawn Harp.

This is an exciting time. We’re not only rebuilding, but we’re building a stronger industry, one that will be able to withstand whatever comes our way. We’re back in the saddle, boys and girls.

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