Chasing no longer -- Chase rules the lending roost

Jim Henry is a special correspondent for Automotive News.
Chase Auto Finance last year became the nation's biggest auto lender, excluding leases.

That's impressive, particularly since the company cut back in states hit hard by the housing crisis -- including huge markets like California and Florida. To be fair, Chase wasn't alone.

Now the company is easing its way back into those markets and plans to open some new offices in other parts of the country.

Says Chase Auto Finance chief Marc Sheinbaum: "We probably haven't done that for a year and a half."

Just don't expect Chase to cozy up to the leasing side of the business any time soon. Except for the brands its serves as a private-label captive finance company -- Jaguar, Land Rover, Subaru and Mazda -- Chase bailed out of leasing in the fall of 2008 after Chrysler Financial exited leasing.

Still, times are better, and Sheinbaum attributes Chase's good fortune to great foresight.

"We realized what was coming at us as early as the first quarter of 2007," he says. "That allowed us to ease up on the throttle, whereas a lot of our competitors had to jam on the brakes."

While competitors continue to ride the brakes, Chase is giving it a little gas.