Mark F. O’Neil, president and CEO of DealerTrack, was introduced last week at this year’s National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) convention in Las Vegas; he has been involved in auto finance since the late 1980s. He cofounded the used-car superstore CarMax Group in Richmond, Va., in 1992 and ran its day-to-day operations. Most recently he was president and chief operating officer of Greenlight.com in Livermore, Calif., where he helped auto dealers use the Internet to increase business.
DealerTrack is the Garden City, N.Y.-based auto financing portal announced this month by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., along with lending partner AmeriCredit.
In his new job O’Neil will be up against the tentatively named DealerconX, an auto financing portal started in November by Bank of Montreal and CIT Vendor Technology of New York. The Canadian company has a similar business model and plans to enter the U.S. market this summer, according to a Feb. 9 story by Andrew Roth on AmericanBanker.com, an online financial services resource.
“We are expecting DealerconX to become a major player in the U.S.,” Peter Martin, the company’s head of corporate development, told Roth.
DealerconX, which plans to roll out its service in Canada at the end of this month, got a boost on Feb. 1 when Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto became a lender and equity partner. Royal will figure prominently in DearlerconX’s efforts to gain a foothold in the United States, where the bank has extensive operations.
Royal plans to bring two of its U.S. subsidiaries on board to finance auto deals through the network: Centura Bank in North Carolina, which Royal has a deal to buy, and Security First Network Bank, an Internet bank in Atlanta. A Bank of Montreal subsidiary, Harris Bank in Chicago, is also expected to join, according to Roth.
DealerconX is looking to sign up other U.S. bank partners.
DealerconX officials say that they believe their technology goes a step beyond DealerTrack’s.
The Canadian firm has “Web-ified” the documentation required for auto finance, according to Martin, so that not just approval for financing but the contract itself can be fulfilled electronically. The process still faces regulatory and cultural hurdles, such as widespread use of electronic signatures, but it is the wave of the future, Martin said.
“We will fundamentally eliminate any errors in the documentation process,” Martin said. “Documentation is received by the funder more quickly and correctly, so the dealers get their money faster.”
But Tony Langan, senior vice president of Chase Automotive, said that DealerTrack also plans to introduce “electronic contracting” by the second half — just in time to head off DealerconX’s targeted U.S. entry.
DealerTrack also will benefit from its “first-move advantage in the U.S. marketplace,” according to Langan. Seven additional lenders are ready to join the network in the next month. DealerTrack has more than 4,000 U.S. auto dealers signed up for its service; DealerconX has more than 3,000 Canadian auto dealers.
DealerTrack was announced on Jan. 29 as a joint venture between the two banks and AmeriCredit Corp., the largest nonprime auto lending company in the United States. It is the first company of its kind involving large cash management banks: Generally the banks closest to dealerships are the financing arms of auto manufacturing companies such as GMAC and the credit arms of Ford and Chrysler.
Almost everyone involved agrees that Internet auto lending will be beneficial to dealers.
Sterling McCall Toyota in Houston, the second-largest Toyota retailer in the United States, tested DealerTrack for about a year. Sterling McCall finance director Bob Cannon said that the network lets the dealer “enter our applications to our lenders — Chase being the primary one — much faster than we normally would have.”
Callback time for approvals, which usually takes about an hour and a half, has been cut to five minutes with DealerTrack, according to Cannon. “It virtually eliminates any delay in getting a call back from our lenders.”
In addition, “it allows us to go online and do business at any time,” he said. “The majority of automobiles are sold in the evenings or on Saturdays when your lenders are usually running skeleton crews.”