In conference calls late last month, all six of the nation's publicly traded new-car dealership groups said the shortage of used cars has them scrambling to acquire used cars for resale. They're keeping more trade-ins and off-lease cars rather than selling them at auctions. Some dealerships are working harder to buy used cars from individual customers, even if the customer doesn't buy a car at the dealership.
Assuming dealers can't simply pass along higher costs, they could be more highly motivated to shop for the most competitive used-car financing. And because the used-car loan market is highly fragmented, Ally has an opportunity to grow its share, Muir said.
According to Experian Automotive, the Top 20 used-car lenders accounted for only 38 percent of total used-car financing in the fourth quarter of 2010. In contrast, the top 20 new-car lenders took 81 percent of the new-car finance market.
The No. 1 used-car lender, Wells Fargo Dealer Services, had a market share of about 7 percent in the fourth quarter, the latest period for which Experian has published data. The No. 1 new-car lender, Ally, had a market share of about 14 percent, Experian said.
"The used market in the dealer segment could be as big for us as new," Muir said.
For Ally, bringing used-car lending even with new-car financing would require a huge increase in used-vehicle lending. That's just what Ally has done so far this year. In the first quarter, Ally's used-car loans originations totaled $2.3 billion, more than double the $1 billion worth in the year-ago quarter.
The growth in used-car loans was less dramatic in the context of bigger originations for Ally overall. Ally originated $11.6 billion in loans and leases in the first quarter, almost double the $6 billion written in the corresponding period last year.
Used vehicles accounted for just under 20 percent of Ally's originations in the first quarter, up from 17 percent a year ago. Leases made up 19 percent of the first-quarter total, up from 12 percent a year earlier. New-car loans were 61 percent of Ally's total, down from 72 percent a year ago.
Muir said Ally's perspective has changed now that it's not a captive finance company whose No. 1 mission was to help sell new vehicles. Now, Muir said, Ally is more of a full-spectrum lender.