Separately, Experian Automotive said that in the first quarter of 2012, subprime loans made up 44.4 percent of new- and used-car loans combined, up from 41.9 percent a year earlier.
Autos lead in subprime
Auto lending cropped up in the second-quarter survey a couple of ways. First, when asked, "Where will the largest increase in subprime lending occur in 2012?" 50.3 percent of the respondents said auto lending, 37.7 percent said in credit cards, and 12 percent said in mortgages.
Second, the percentage of respondents who expect delinquencies in auto loans to decline decreased from the previous quarter to 25.3 percent. With some ups and downs, that number has generally decreased from a recent peak of 37.2 percent in the first quarter of 2011. It was 30.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012.
That's a roundabout way of saying auto loan delinquencies may increase. It may not sound like it, but within reason, higher delinquencies are a positive sign for dealerships because higher delinquencies imply easier credit.
The FICO survey is conducted and analyzed by FICO, which stands for Fair, Isaac Co.; the Professional Risk Managers International Association; and the Columbia Business School Center for Decision Sciences. Besides auto loans, the survey also explores the outlook for credit cards and residential mortgages. The latest survey had 192 respondents, including risk managers for captive finance companies, banks and independent lenders.
At the same time, delinquencies remain low by historical standards, and that's good for lenders, too. Jennings said that isn't expected to change very much.
"Historically, delinquencies are much lower on autos than they are on credit cards or mortgages," Jennings said. "In the payment hierarchy, for people who have to choose among credit card, mortgage or auto loan, the auto loan is one of the last things to get into trouble."