Bob Tasca III, the first dealer approached by AutoFi, remembers a similar pitch.
"They had a vision of the product that I did not like at the time. It was very predatorial to the dealer, almost like it was going to compete against it," Tasca said. "I told them, 'I'm not interested. However, I love the concept of what you want to do.' "
Customer demand for faster processes of securing vehicle financing, and a dearth of progress in the space, persuaded a number of financial technology companies to develop platforms to challenge and disrupt the traditional auto finance space. But despite their goals of turning the auto lending industry on its ear, few achieved it.
In fact, those that found success in the auto finance industry are those that ended up partnering with the very companies they initially aimed to topple — auto lenders and auto dealers. But it wasn't an easy marriage at the start. While dealers and lenders recognized the need to innovate the auto financing process, many were hesitant to partner with solutions that initially aimed to circumvent the dealer system.
The AutoFi-Ford Credit relationship is part of a growing trend of captive lenders partnering with financial technology companies to expedite the finance process and expand the availability of digital retailing tools to consumers. After calibrating the platform with additional input from Ford Motor Credit Co., the relationship that AutoFi formed with dealerships such as Ricart Automotive and Tasca Automotive Group in Cranston, R.I., would rapidly blossom across the Ford Motor Co. dealership network.
Today, about 500 Ford dealerships work with AutoFi, according to Ford Credit CEO Marion Harris. Working with the fintech allows the captive to aid dealership processes, not undermine them, he said.
"Ultimately, it is the dealer's responsibility to finish that sale," Harris said. "We're not looking to circumvent our dealer body in any way. They are our arms and legs."