A flourishing vehicle segment still couldn’t offset the lingering effects of the housing crisis for Ally Financial Inc., which posted a lower first-quarter profit today.

Ally officials said the company, which is majority-owned by the U.S. government, earned $146 million in the first quarter, a drop from the $162 million the company earned in the year-ago quarter. Michael Carpenter, Ally’s chief executive, said falling costs for funding and a better mix of loans would help the company’s profitability to improve over time.

Net income from continuing operations in North America auto finance fell to $518 million in the first quarter from $612 million in the year-ago period. However, Carpenter, who returned the company to profitability by refocusing the company on its auto lending business, said the business unit continues to strengthen.

“Our auto franchise is flourishing, as we continue to generate strong origination volume from an increasingly diversified customer base,” he said. “Additionally, the consumer value-proposition at Ally Bank continues to resonate as our customer base grows and satisfaction levels remain in the top quartile.”

Total consumer financing originations from continuing operations increased 75 percent to $14.3 billion during the first quarter. The company reported $9.6 billion in new-vehicle originations, $1.1 billion in used and approximately $800 million in new leases.

Company officials said growth in consumer financing originations was driven by the expansion of the company’s retail originations platform, strong dealer relationships and the execution of incentive programs designed by General Motors and Chrysler.

Leasing and used origination volume continued to increase, with leasing increasing from 10 percent in the year-ago period to 16 percent of total originations in the first quarter. Used originations increased to 17 percent of total originations in the first quarter from 14 percent in the year-ago period.

The company’s insurance business unit, which focuses primarily on products such as service contracts and dealer inventory insurance, reported pre-tax income from continuing operations that dropped 27 percent to $134 million.

Mortgage operations reported pre-tax income from continuing operations of $34 million during the first quarter of 2011, compared to $156 million in the year-ago period. Additionally, the company lost $39 million in its legacy mortgage portfolio, before taxes, compared with an $85 million gain in the same quarter last year.

Additionally, Ally grew its deposit base to $40.7 billion from $39 billion at the end of December and $32.9 billion a year ago. It also renewed more than $16 billion of key existing funding facilities, including the refinancing of $15 billion in credit facilities at the parent company and Ally Bank. Ally also completed $7 billion of funding transaction during the quarter.

“Ally has reported consistently profitable results for more than a year, and we are encouraged with the transformation to date and the progress we continue to see in the business,” said Carpenter. “While core pre-tax income was lower due to the moderation of certain factors that benefited us last year, we expect profitability to improve over time …”