Honolulu Ford President Mark Benson is on a mission to save his customers money.
Benson, the son of a Lutheran minister, tries to refinance customers with high-interest-rate car loans, including ones the dealership arranged. Failing that, he works to help customers trade up to a new or newer vehicle with a much lower interest rate and monthly payment.
Benson is unable to arrange a better loan for about half the customers he tries to help, either because they still have credit problems or they owe more on their vehicle than it's worth. Still, he estimates he sells eight to 10 cars a month as a way to improve customers' finance rates. Honolulu Ford sold 1,517 new vehicles, or about 126 a month, in 2014. The store had revenue of $80 million.
Although the opportunity to boost sales is part of the reason Benson looks to find customers a better deal, that's not his only purpose.
"I have great compassion for those that are struggling to get by," Benson says. "It has always bothered me that people are forced to pay 23.99 percent interest for a vehicle to get to and from work."
So two years ago, Honolulu Ford began reaching out to its customers with interest rates above 9 percent to come in and see whether they could be refinanced into shorter-term loans with lower rates.
When the dealership can't find customers financing with an interest rate lower than 23.99 percent -- the maximum allowed in Hawaii, Benson says -- Benson tells them to come back in a year.
"I always tell people, 'Don't sit still for this. As soon as you get your credit cleaned up, come back in, and we will do whatever we can to try to help get you a lower rate,'" Benson says. "What I find from experience is that if people make their payments on time for 12 months and don't damage their credit in another area, I can get them into a normal auto loan."
The dealership does most of its financing through Ford Motor Credit Co., although it also works with local banks and credit unions.