Credit? Come and get it, industry groups say

Following the three best-selling automakers in the United States, industry groups aim to assure wary consumers they can get financed despite the credit crunch.

Credit is available, say groups as varied as the used-vehicle retailer CarMax Inc. and trade associations that represent new-vehicle dealers and auto lenders. General Motors, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and Ford Motor Co. are running similar advertising campaigns.

"There's been negative press regarding the financing situation on new vehicles," says Chevrolet dealer John Phelan, chairman of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, which represents more than 500 franchised dealers in metropolitan Chicago. "We had to counteract that."

The dealer group is broadcasting TV and radio commercials that tell new-vehicle customers that they can get competitive rates for loans and leases.

Credit can be had

A trade group that represents auto dealers in the Chicago area has produced this commercial, which aims to persuade new vehicle buyers that they can get financing despite the credit crunch.

Chicago Automobile Trade Association
Phelan says showroom traffic at his dealership in Lyons, Ill., has dropped by half in the past two months.

AWARE — short for Americans Well-informed on Automobile Retailing Economics — is conducting a separate promotional effort. The Washington, D.C., group represents dealers, automakers' captive finance companies, other auto lenders and their trade associations. It sponsors educational programs on vehicle financing.

A survey conducted this summer for AWARE found that 45 percent of U.S. consumers said they plan to buy a new vehicle within three years. Two years ago, the comparable figure was 51 percent, AWARE says.

"We see this as a teachable moment," AWARE spokesman Eric Hoffman told Automotive News. "We want to reassure people there's financing. More important, we want to remind them of the steps they need to take to be smart shoppers."

CarMax, which operates 99 used-vehicle dealerships in 46 U.S. markets, offers its own customer financing. In online advertising, on its CarMax.com Web site and on dealership signs, the company is promoting what it calls its user-friendly finance process.

"Our financing is a key competitive advantage in this environment, where many other automotive retailers may have fewer financing options," says CarMax CEO Tom Folliard. "Our ability to finance qualifying customers has not significantly changed."

The Chicago dealer group is making its broadcast spots available to other industry trade associations at no charge, spokesman Paul Brian says.

The commercials began airing last month in northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin and northwest Indiana. They are scheduled to end before Thanksgiving but will resume early next year, Brian says.

"People are in gridlock," he says. "They don't know what to do. We have to reassure them."

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