CU Direct adds concierge-style auto shopping service

Canadian unit expands, too

SAN FRANCISCO -- CU Direct, which links credit unions and dealerships’ F&I offices through its CUDL lending platform, is working with select dealerships to create a concierge-style shopping experience, spokesman Bill Meyer said during the National Automobile Dealers Association convention here last month.

Separately, the company is expanding in Canada, working with Desjardins Group, one of Canada’s largest credit unions.

The concierge initiative builds on the company’s AutoSmart service, a car-shopping site that credit unions label as their own and their members use to search for vehicles and apply for preapproval on financing.

Typically, consumers who use AutoSmart do their initial vehicle research and request a quote online, then do some of the financing paperwork online to be preapproved before arriving at the dealership.

The site listed about 1.7 million vehicles in inventory at just under 10,100 dealerships nationwide at the end of 2014, a rise of 15 percent in inventory and 6 percent in dealerships versus a year earlier.

AutoPremier

The new service, known as AutoPremier Concierge Service, works with a limited number of dealerships to offer a no-negotiation, no-hassle purchase experience with pre-negotiated prices, Meyer said.

Auto Premier rolled out initially in New York about a year ago. Currently, it works with about 300 dealerships, usually chosen for their high customer-satisfaction scores, in New York, Virginia, northern California and Oklahoma. It is just launching in Illinois, and will continue to roll out to other states through 2015.

Consumers access the service through their credit union’s website or a call center. A sales concierge guides them through selecting a vehicle, locating it at one of the designated dealerships, and getting a solid price quote.

If the consumer has a question at any stage of the purchase process, he or she is encouraged to phone the call center. If the question involves F&I products, the call center is likely to advise the consumer to listen carefully to the pitch, Meyer said, because “these are products designed to protect your investment.”

Canada

The expansion into Canada currently involves working with Desjardins and its more than 6 million members and clients, primarily in Quebec province, said Phil Maniaci, senior vice president of automotive solutions at CU Direct, based in Marlborough, Mass., who also heads the company’s Montreal office.

In 2013, Desjardins approached CU Direct about setting up an AutoSmart-like site in Canada. With that up and running, CU Direct now is looking to expand in 2015 to Ontario and British Columbia. It also is looking at Saskatchewan, Maniaci said.

With only an estimated 326 credit unions in Canada, though, CU Direct is also talking to non-credit union lenders about working through its online links. If it only worked with credit unions, Maniaci said, that would be “kind of a disservice to the dealers.”

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@autonews.com

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