DETROIT -- Seeking to broaden its customer base and add momentum to U.S. sales gains, Chrysler Group on Monday told dealers that it has reached an agreement with Santander Bank to offer financing to customers who don't qualify for prime loans.
The agreement, with Santander Consumer USA Inc., takes effect Thursday. The bank, the U.S. arm of the Spanish banking giant Banco Santander, will extend loans to customers with nonprime credit scores of 650 or lower.
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 Chrysler customers currently fall into the credit range Santander will cover.
Said Kathy Graham, a Chrysler spokeswoman: “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 per month as a result of the new arrangement. 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.
Santander was sending its 110 area representatives out to talk with Chrysler dealers this week. Chrysler dealers who don't already use Santander for used-car financing will be sent applications through the DealerTrack communications system.
The agreement does not affect Chrysler's relationship with GMAC Financial Services, the bank holding company that acts as Chrysler's captive finance arm.
Chrysler sold 329,918 light vehicles in the United States through April, a 2 percent gain over the same four months of 2009. Overall U.S. sales rose 17 percent over the same period.
In April, Chrysler sales rose 25 percent, compared with an overall market gain of 20 percent.
Sid DeBoer, chairman of Lithia Motors and a member of Chrysler's National Dealer Council, praised Santander.
“It's a very good bank,” he said. “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. 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., owns 27 Chrysler stores.