Lenders listen to satisfy dealers

Finance companies keep communication open, see survey results improve

Kaczynski: "It's not just one silver bullet."
Ranking lenders
The top 5 and bottom 5 lenders for prime-quality retail lending, as ranked by overall satisfaction score on a 1,000-point scale
Mini Financial968
BMW Financial961
Alphera Financial952
Mercedes-Benz Financial948
Ally Financial914
Segment average866
TD Auto Finance830
Chase Automotive828
Honda Financial824
GM Financial803
Chrysler Capital784
Source: J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Dealer Financing Satisfaction Study

As auto lenders seek to do a better job of serving dealers, there's no single solution, said Mark Kaczynski, CEO of captive finance company Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp., which serves the Nissan and Infiniti brands.

"It's not just one silver bullet," Kaczynski told Automotive News. But his experience shows that listening to dealers' suggestions is a good place to start.

In the J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Dealer Financing Satisfaction Study, which was released last week, NMAC continued a pattern of steady improvement from prior years' results.

J.D. Power and Associates changed some of the survey questions in the latest study, so 2014 scores don't compare precisely against previous years' scores, said Michael Buckingham, senior director of the auto finance practice at J.D. Power.

Ally Financial also posted substantial improvements in this year's dealer survey, the result of years of effort after terrible survey results in 2010, when it was still better known as GMAC. Back then, the lender was recovering from the recession, bankruptcy restructuring for General Motors, and the bottom dropping out of the subprime mortgage business.

At the top of the dealer satisfaction survey, BMW Group Financial Services and Mercedes-Benz Financial Services have traded No. 1 and No. 2 in the various categories for the last few years.

BMW dominates

BMW Group Financial Services dominated the 2014 survey, with the No. 1 ranking in nearly every category, even for its lending services for nonprime customers.

Three units of BMW Group Financial Services -- Mini Financial Services, BMW Financial Services and Alphera Financial Services, which serves non-BMW brands for BMW Group dealers -- were Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, in prime retail credit, which is to say retail loans to borrowers with prime-quality credit. Mercedes-Benz Financial Services was No. 4.

Ed Robinson, CEO of BMW Group Financial Services, Americas Region, said he's in regular touch with finance and insurance managers and general managers, in addition to dealer principals. 

"I know a lot of the guys. I can call them, and they call me. If we're doing something right, or if we're doing something wrong, they let me know," he said. "We know we have a lot of people nipping at our heels."

In retail leasing, BMW Financial Services and Mini Financial Services were No. 1 and No. 2. Mercedes-Benz Financial was No. 3, and Ford Motor Credit Co. was No. 4.

Buckingham said captive finance companies and automakers' preferred lenders dominate the leasing category, since lease penetration increases as an automaker's lease incentives increase.

Chrysler Capital, a private-label program under which Santander Consumer USA provides financing for Chrysler Group dealers and car buyers, was in last place in prime-risk loans and next to last in retail leasing.

Captive finance company GM Financial was next to last in prime retail credit -- a category in which GM Financial is barely present -- and near the bottom in retail leasing.


Both Santander and GM Financial historically were subprime loan specialists that only recently beefed up their leasing and loans to customers with prime credit.

J.D. Power also compiles survey data on subprime lenders but doesn't publish the detailed results for what it calls the "nonprime" category. Buckingham said dealers rated BMW Financial Services No. 1 in nonprime, and Ford Credit No. 2.

The latest study was based on responses from 3,037 dealerships surveyed in March and April.

Nissan dealer Jim Whitesel, chairman of an NMAC dealer subcommittee, said that in the last couple of years, the Nissan captive has acted on several dealer requests. He said, for instance, that NMAC launched a program for buyers with "thin files" -- little or no credit history -- and added personnel to handle additional dealer volume, even though the parent company was trying to enforce a policy of no additional head count.

Nissan dealers also asked for and got more used-car financing. NMAC added incentives for certified used Nissans as well, Whitesel said.

Whitesel is managing partner of Trophy Nissan in Mesquite, Texas. Formerly a finance director for several years, he has worked with GMAC, Ford Motor Credit, Toyota Motor Credit and NMAC. Trophy Nissan is part of the Van Tuyl Group of Phoenix, the nation's fifth-largest dealership group.

NMAC moved from below average on prime-risk loans last year to above average this year. Its scores also improved on retail leases and floorplan financing but remained below industry average.

Infiniti dealers rate Infiniti Financial Services, a unit of NMAC, separately. Its scores were higher than Nissan dealer ratings for NMAC and comparable to last year. But last year's rankings for Infiniti were a big improvement over 2012.


On the surface, NMAC's performance on this year's survey looks like only a modest improvement. But Kaczynski said NMAC has moved on many fronts during the last few years to improve its dealer relationships.

Besides the thin-file program -- which NMAC calls Early Buyers -- he said NMAC has improved its information technology systems, empowered credit analysts who work with dealerships to make more of their own decisions and implemented a more flexible nine-tier pricing scheme, replacing a four-tier one that Whitesel said was "uncompetitive" with Honda and Toyota programs.

Whitesel said the changes make a competitive difference: "Certainly NMAC has been -- its senior directors have been -- very open to all those things from the dealers."

You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@autonews.com