On hand were LaLonde, representatives from financial institutions and a credit-repair specialist available for hire in case an attendee wanted to dispute claims with the credit-rating agencies.
LaLonde says one goal of the clinics was to sell cars. But he says consumers also need a comfortable place to discuss their credit problems. He says he hopes they will remember the service when they are in a position to buy a vehicle.
"These people get lied to all the time," LaLonde said of sales pitches. "They're told that if they come in, their financing will be approved. Or they'll get great rates. Then they drive 45 minutes and there's nothing there for them.
"Our passion is to help people with their credit. Sometimes their expectations are too high."
LaLonde said subprime shoppers have traditionally accounted for an outsized portion of sales at his Kia stores. About 30 percent of loans at the stores are subprime, which LaLonde defines as credit scores below 620. His Waterford store sells about 100 new and used vehicles a month, while the Mount Clemens store retails 60 to 70 vehicles.
LaLonde said the Kia stores sold more than 30 vehicles to the people who attended the credit clinics. The stores also received referral business from attendees who told others about their experience, he said.
Now the stores plan to offer the clinics quarterly.
LaLonde is hardly alone among auto dealers interested in combining consumer credit rehabilitation with car sales.
Karl Malone Toyota in suburban Salt Lake City plans to open what it calls a Credit Rebound Center next year, says Andy Madsen, CEO of Karl Malone Group.
The $2.5 million used-car showroom and offices will offer subprime buyers credit advice in an upscale atmosphere featuring leather furniture, an aquarium, music and refreshments, Madsen said.
Malone, an NBA Hall of Famer, grew up in poverty in Louisiana and wants to see down-on-their-luck people get a fresh start in life, Madsen said. The store sells about 420 new and used vehicles per month.
Says Madsen: "Karl wants to see the underdog succeed."