Coming together before Washington comes a callin'

Jim Henry is a special correspondent for Automotive News.
UPDATED: 2/13/10 11:24 a.m. ET EDITOR'S NOTE: Story was updated to clarify that Steve Smith is chairman of the American Financial Services Association's Vehicle Finance Division. Also, as of Friday night, be became immediate past chairman, as AFSA installed Frank Armstrong, president of World Omni Financial Corp., as the new chairman of the AFSA Vehicle Finance Division.

Auto lenders haven't been demonized by the public or called on the carpet by Congress like big Wall Street firms, but auto lenders can't help but worry whether they could be in for similar treatment.

So it's a good time to circle the wagons.

There's safety in numbers, said Steve Smith, chairman of the Washington-based American Financial Services Association's Vehicle Finance Division and senior vice president, American Honda Finance Corp. "We can be more effective as a large group," he said Friday.

Big auto lenders including Chase Auto Finance, VW Credit and Wachovia joined the group ahead of the AFSA Vehicle Finance Conference & Exposition in Orlando, Smith said. The presence of new members was a significant takeaway from the conference.

"Clearly, the regulation of our industry is very high, and that's got the attention of the auto finance industry," he said.