So the automaker and bank reached a deal last month that will give Chrysler access to a group of customers it lost after the collapse of Chrysler Financial in 2008.
According to Experian's ratings, nonprime scores are 620 to 679, while subprime is 550 to 619. Santander Consumer is the U.S. arm of the Spanish banking giant Banco Santander SA.
Chrysler is subsidizing the arrangement, although officials of the automaker declined to specify the size or nature of the investment. Chrysler officials said 22 percent of the automaker's customers currently fall into the credit range Santander will cover.
Kathy Graham, a Chrysler spokeswoman, said: "Santander specializes in this credit market. They know how to finance it. They don't do prime lending. They have plenty of money. There is not a liquidity issue."
Chrysler said it could add 2,000 sales a month as a result of the new arrangement -- about 2 percent of recent monthly sales.
About 50 percent of Chrysler dealers already use Santander for used-car financing.
Santander can offer loans at a 30 percent savings compared with other lenders, possibly saving customers as much as $3,000 over the life of the loan, Chrysler officials said.
Those interest rates are typically 16-18 percent, Chrysler officials said.
The agreement does not affect Chrysler Group's relationship with GMAC Financial Services, the lender that provides floorplan and consumer loans to many Chrysler dealerships.
Sid DeBoer, chairman of Lithia Motors and a member of Chrysler's National Dealer Council, praised Santander.
"They focus on the lower credit-score people. It's worked very well for us in several of our stores, making some difference in our ability to finance used-car deals," he said.
"Since Chrysler is going to be paying for part of this, it should make it very attractive for new cars as well."
Lithia, of Medford, Ore., operates 27 Chrysler dealerships.