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Legislators, Bankers, Dealers Look to Quell Fears of Frozen Credit Market

November 18, 2008

With all the news since September centering on a frozen credit market, legislators, banks, and dealers are working together to change consumer perception about the availability of credit.

On the heels of a Maryland legislator’s unveiling of a new tax incentive aimed at getting consumers back into dealerships, a group of Rochester, N.Y.-based dealers and finance sources launched a new ad campaign aimed at telling consumers that automotive financing is available. The campaign mirrors several others launched by dealers across the nation in hopes of restoring consumer confidence.

“… We just need to give the consumer the motivation and the confidence to visit their local dealers to see that a new-car purchase is in reach,” said Annette Sykora, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). “Credit is available again, but lagging consumer confidence is still depressing new-car and truck sales 25 to 30 percent.”

Sykora’s statement came in support of Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s (D-Md.) proposed legislation to stimulate the struggling economy by boosting vehicle sales. Called the Auto Assistance Ownership Amendment, the bill was introduced to the U.S. Senate yesterday.

The legislation would allow consumers to deduct the sales tax and interest paid on a car loan if the vehicle is purchased before Dec. 31. The tax break would be available for vehicles priced under $49,500.

“My amendment is not about bailouts. We’ve already done a bailout,” Mikulski said. “We’ve helped the sharks and we’ve helped the whales. Now it’s time to help the minnows, the little guy, and the American consumer.”

Aside from supporting Mikulski’s bill, the NADA is also lobbying Congress to pass a post-election stimulus package, a move the association said would boost new-vehicle sales and create a wave of economic activity.

“Congress and the President must consider leveraging the incredible economic engine of the automobile industry to jump-start our shaky economy,” Sykora said.

The industry has been working overtime to change consumer perception about the availability of credit. Last month, the Chicago Automobile Trade Association (CATA), which attributed the tight credit market to a double-digit drop in year-over-year dealership sales figures, launched an ad campaign in attempt to alter consumer opinion.

In Rochester, N.Y., two straight months of dwindling vehicle sales prompted the Rochester Automobile Dealers’ Association to team up with six local banks and credit unions on a similar campaign. The print ads, which ran over the weekend, featured the logos of Canandaigua National Bank & Trust, M&T Bank, ESL Federal Credit Union, The Summit Federal Credit Union, Five Star Bank and Community Bank. The ad carried the tag line: “Buy Local and Borrow Local, too.” The campaign, which is the first in the RADA’s 100-year history, will also include spots on cable television.

According to the association, vehicle sales in a local county there were up 2.6 percent for the first 10 months of the year, but that all changed on Sept. 1 when the first signs of a tightening market emerged.

“We were concerned that consumers would get the message there’s no money out there,” Brad McAreavy, the association’s president, told Democrat and Chronicle.

Bankers involved in the campaign also told the local newspaper there that the most regional banks and credit unions haven’t been damaged by the fallout from the subprime mortgage debacle, which that has led to billions of dollars in write-downs at large banks. What has been the problem, they added, are media reports about a frozen market.

At Canandaigua National Bank, for example, car loans were going strong at midsummer, running about three times the volume of the same period in 2007. Since the summer, loan originations have fallen by half.

The Rochester dealer association and the CATA aren’t the only ones attempting to quell fears about a frozen credit market. General Motors, Toyota, Ford, and Nissan have launched similar campaigns.

“We know there is still demand … but with the negative consumers news of late, consumer perception is there’s no financing available,” said Ben Poore, a marketing executive for Infiniti, after the company announced zero-percent financing on all 2008 models.

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