It may be small, but Santander Consumer USA is far and away the nation's fastest-growing used-car lender, thanks to recent acquisitions.
"We're national now, with about 10,000 dealerships we do business with," says Matt Fitzgerald, senior vice president sales and marketing. "Our portfolio size is a lot bigger."
A buying spree helped. Santander completed the purchase of Triad Financial Holdings last October. In March, as part of an earlier sale, Santander completed the takeover of the former auto loan servicing operations of HSBC Finance Corp. and part of HSBC's auto loan business.
Santander says it now has a portfolio of $8.67 billion in subprime auto loans, representing more than 444,000 customers.
Santander's growth spurt is part of a broader realignment of players in the subprime finance market. The recent credit crisis forced some subprime lenders out of business and made it a buyer's market for acquisitions.
The nation's top used-vehicle lender last year was Wells Fargo Dealer Services -- formerly Wachovia Dealer Services -- with 6 percent market share, according to Experian Automotive. Chase Auto Finance was second with 2009 share of about 5 percent. Santander's share is about 1 percent, but the market is so fragmented, that puts Santander among the top 20 used-vehicle lenders, Experian says.