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2006 Dealer's Choice Awards

Auto Dealer Monthly as well as its online sister AutoDealerDaily.com, was founded on the concept of sharing opinions, ideas and resources between auto dealers and their employees. Indeed through surveys, chat forums, letters to the editor and bulletin boards, both the print and online resource center has shared contemporary knowledge for nearly six years.

To that end, it is with great pride we announce the winners of the 2006 Dealer’s Choice Awards. It is the second annual recognition of the most highly regarded vendors, suppliers and finance companies in the industry, as named by the end users – the auto dealers. The intent of the contest is to provide dealers and their teams the ability to offer their collective selection of the top providers to the retail auto industry.

THE RULES

First there had to be nominees. After extensive research, Auto Dealer Monthly nominated 185 vendors, servicers and finance companies in 20 ranking categories. Additionally, to allow for the possibility that applicable companies were not identified and thereby omitted from the survey, the magazine gave dealers the option to list “other” and write in their own selection.

Dealers were then asked to vote, either through the ballots included inside the magazine, or online at AutoDealerDaily.com. They were asked to rate at least five vendors in the 20 categories that applied to their dealerships ranging from Direct Mail Advertising to Data Management Systems.

The voting was not simply a plurality vote. Being the biggest does not necessarily mean being the best. When casting a vote for a provider, dealers and their employees were asked to rate them in three areas. Rankings ranged from a high score of five points, to a low score of one.

They were asked to first rate the product or service that was being provided by the vendor or lender. Next, they were asked to rate the customer service and support offered by the provider. Finally, they were asked to rate their overall value as compared to the cost spent on the product or service.

Responses were then weighted, with the scores placed for the Overall Value for Dollars Spent being multiplied by an additional weighting factor. Finally, the scores were totaled and averaged for each provider. The overall average vote across all categories was assigned a value of 100, and all scores adjusted accordingly relative to their position above or below the overall average.

Votes were received at an amazing pace. Over 16,000 votes were cast via fax, e-mail and mail-in ballots. Then the fun began. Determined to keep the rankings legitimate, Auto Dealer Monthly staff contacted nearly 50% of the voters by phone and e-mail – nearly 100% of the responders in tightly contested categories – to audit results to insure that dealers and dealership personnel were the ones actually casting the ballots. In some cases those calls uncovered fraud, at which time the dealers were given the opportunity to submit corrected ballots or have their surveys eliminated.

To be listed in the final category rankings, a company had to pass two separate acid tests. First, it had to be named on 10% of the ballots within that category. This prevented “write-in” companies receiving an insignificant handful of votes from supplanting those companies receiving thousands of votes. Additionally, the votes cast for that company must place the company at or above the average for all votes within that category.

The top ranked company in each category was given the designation of Diamond Award Winner. The second place finisher was named Platinum Award Winner, and finally third place was named the Gold Award Winner.

With the average score placed by a voter being above a “four” on a “five” point scale in all but three categories, the results naturally produced more than a few surprises, whether by providers’ inclusions as well as exclusions. In the end, certainly all of the vendors, servicers and finance companies that passed the test of the dealer’s scrutiny truly earned the right to be ranked as a top-rate provider.

SUMMARY OF RESULTS

The 2006 version of the Dealer’s Choice Awards provided a number of repeat winners from last year’s rankings, as well as newcomers and upstarts. Anytime you have over 16,000 votes in a contest decided by auto retailers you are apt to have some surprises.

Six companies are becoming the icons of quality in the eyes of the dealers, winning back to back crowns.

Toyota dealers rewarded their financial arm, Toyota Motor Credit for the second consecutive year as the Diamond Award Winner in both the Prime Credit Captive Finance Company and the Prime Credit Leasing categories.

A second repeater, and “Double-Diamond” winner, was Strategic Marketing of Louisville, KY. Last year’s Diamond Award winner in Advertising - Direct Mail backed it up with another one in 2006, and also gathered a second Diamond Award by winning the Special Finance Lead Provider category.

Additional repeat winners in 2006 included CNA National Warranty (Service Contract Provider), United Development Services, Inc. (Finance and Insurance Trainer), Dealer Marketing Services, Inc. which markets ProMax Online (F&I Desking Software) and UCS (Dealer Management Systems).

As always there were quantities of write-in votes, several “popular” names derided or ignored, and dealers willing to speak their mind in the voting. The results certainly offered insight to the true perspective existing in the retail community.

Each year there have been results that consternate vendors. Some have enjoyed high write-in support in categories that, in their own eyes, they do not claim to be in.

Additionally, there were surprises within some of the classifications. An example would be eBay Motors, clearly by company mission, an online auction marketplace. Dealers however, feel strongly enough about them to rank them number one in Used Vehicle Internet Lead Providers.

A similar situation exists with the New Vehicle Internet Lead Providers. With their powerful consumer advertising; AutoTrader.com is one of the first companies to come to mind when thinking about used vehicles online. It is not a surprise therefore that they were the Platinum Award winner and a close second to eBay Motors in the Used Vehicle Internet Lead Providers category. However, it has shocked the company to nab the Platinum Award in the New Vehicle category, dethroning last year’s champion CarsDirect.com, and coming within a whisker of outdistancing the Diamond Award winner Dealix.

Certainly other surprises exist through familiar names of manufacturers, vendors and lenders that you would expect to see ranked, but are not. Many categories were impacted by a strong and loyal vote to the top one or two providers, causing the category average to be elevated. When groups of critical dealers down-rate a vendor, the result was simply too much to overcome to allow them to be ranked.

Finally, two of last year’s Diamond Award winners, ProResponse and DealerLink once again had favorable surveys from dealers, but both failed to meet the required 10% rule within the category to be considered.

All in all, the 2006 Dealers’ Choice Awards accomplished exactly what it set out to do. It has provided a forum for dealers of all makes and sizes to tell the retail industry who they believe are the best providers of products, services, and financing to the retail automobile industry…for 2006.

THE WINNERS

ADVERTISING – DIRECT MAIL

Repeating for the second consecutive year, Strategic Marketing of Louisville, KY was named the Diamond Award winner with the fifth highest score (116.5) of all category winners.

Two things were particularly noteworthy with Strategic Marketing’s achievement. Their 116.5 points allowed them to net the greatest spread between a category winner and the group average (99.1), showing a distinct difference in value among the category. Additionally, in achieving their score, they raised their marks from 2005 when they won the category with 110 points.

While Strategic Marketing certainly fulfills direct mail of all types, they are best known for their focus towards the sub-prime credit customer.

It took everything our Diamond Award winner had to outdistance Interactive Finance Marketing Group, Richmond, VA, the 2006 Platinum Award Winner. IFMG, long noted for their Special Finance Internet Leads, netted 115.7 points, in an extremely close race, and slightly over a year after entering the direct mail marketplace.

An upstart in the category, BlueSky Marketing, of San Ramon, CA, was the only other company to exceed the group average, which netted them the Gold Award.

Once again, no other category saw collectively as much write-in balloting as did the Advertising – Direct Mail category. With the ballot including 11 strong candidates to begin with, another 36 companies had votes cast for them.

With a category average of only 99.1, the overall satisfaction of those dealers voting ranked slightly below average, indicating that some dealers strongly voiced their displeasure with the value received from some of that market segment.

ONLINE AUCTION LISTING SERVICES

The online auction listing service category may seem like a very small market niche, but to the large number of dealers transacting business on eBay Motors and other online auctions and classifieds, it is a very vital component of their activities.

With five nominees, the voting was significant. With the group average being a 98.6, in the end, only one company stood out above the crowd. The Diamond Award recipient was given to CarAd, an eBay company, which totaled a score of 99.3.

Dealers casting votes for CarAd noted that the ease of use along with online support was the primary reason for their overall high satisfaction.

The category had a number of write-in votes from what appeared to be local or regional companies, none of which came close to the 10% rule.

SPECIAL FINANCE LEAD PROVIDER

The Special Finance Lead Provider category was hotly contested, and involved providers that produce leads from multiple sources.

In 2005 the category tied for the lowest average ranking vote of all categories surveyed. This year, with a category average of 104.6, it ranked as the fourth highest, achieving the largest increase over the previous year of 10.3 points. Clearly dealers appear to be happier with the leads they are purchasing.

With last year’s category leader receiving insufficient votes for consideration, that left runner-up in the catbird seat. Interactive Financial Marketing Group didn’t rest on their laurels, with dealers rewarding them with an increase of 15.8 points, all the way to 112.1 – a score that would have won 12 other categories. Here, however, it was only good enough for the Gold Award. As always, IFMG’s claim to fame was their third party Internet leads.

Upstart BlueSky Marketing made their presence felt again in this category, with dealers awarding them 115.9 points, an impressive showing earning the Platinum Award. BlueSky also received high marks for their Internet leads, with dealers commenting on excellent cost per sale ratios.

Even BlueSky’s impressive entry into the awards couldn’t corral first place, however. The Diamond Award for 2006 went to “Double-Diamond” winner Strategic Marketing. With their combination direct-mail/Internet program, dealers praised their high appointment and delivery rates, along with its consistency. Dealer rewarded Strategic with 118.2 points, the third highest of all companies across all categories, a stunning number considering the general dissatisfaction of dealers with lead generators in 2005.

NEW VEHICLE INTERNET LEAD PROVIDER

The New Vehicle Internet Lead Provider category received the highest amount of voting among all the categories. It also provided some of the biggest surprises as well.

Certainly the category did not enjoy the same increase in satisfaction that the Special Finance Lead Providers did in 2006. In 2005, the category had the second lowest of all ranking values. 2006 ticked up slightly, but ever so. With the group average moving up 0.4 points to 95, the category ranked third lowest in 2006.

With so many options available to the franchise dealer, it appears they have becoming very selective, especially when examining average cost per sale.

Similar to last year, the category became a dumping ground. Again, with the average vote in the surveys being essentially a “four” on a scale of five, unhappy dealers can have a devastating impact on the overall ranking of a company. This category held more “ones” than nearly all others combined.

Being the only provider to score over 100 points (at 100.2) Dealix, headquartered in Redwood City, CA, and owned by Seattle based Cobalt, moved up one notch from 2005 to capture the Diamond Award in 2006. Dealers noted Dealix’s overall quality of leads, cost per sale, available training assistance, along with excellent communications as the reasons for their high votes.

As referenced earlier, the Platinum Award winner was certainly a surprise. With 99.9 points, AutoTrader.com nearly captured the top spot. After placing third in the category last year, dealers must certainly regard them as strongly for new vehicle leads as the used leads that they have always been known for.

Falling from the top spot in 2005, but still on the podium, CarsDirect.com received the Gold Award, netting a score of 98.2 points.

This year, just as in 2005, five providers in all ranked above the average of 95, making them worthy to be named in the awards. Those companies also named included AutoUSA, up one spot, with a 95.6 rating, and cars.com, which scored a 95.3.

USED VEHICLE INTERNET LEAD PROVIDER

The category of Used Vehicle Internet Lead Providers is an interesting one, as the top three companies really don’t claim to be lead providers. Certainly eBay has long since been known for its online auctions. Additionally, the two giants in online classifieds, AutoTrader.com and cars.com are certainly primarily focused on taking the premise of print advertising to the Internet. The results, dealers still perceive and utilize the companies as lead providers and value their benefit.

This year after a hard fought battle, it was indeed eBay Motors, San Jose, CA reigning supreme as the Diamond Award winner. eBay had a score of 99, up nearly 4 points from 2005. The fact that the auction community allows all dealers to be featured on an equal basis, along with the fact that individuals using eBay are buyers is what has led dealer sentiment.

Earning a “Double-Platinum” in 2006 was AutoTrader.com. The Platinum Award winner scored a total of 98.1 points. Both quantity and quality of leads, and the fact that a majority of the leads come into the dealership via telephone were greatest benefits offered by dealers rating AutoTrader.com. They would have likely won the category had it not been for a significant number of independents that expressed displeasure over their “Certified Used” tool, feeling it puts them at a disadvantage.

The Gold Award went to cars.com, with a score of 94.9. The fact that in general, all dealer ads compete on an equal basis and overall cost per sale were the comments aired most often by those rating cars.com.

Overall the category average was only 94.4, the second lowest of all categories, and a tick down from 2005, indicating that dealers perception of the value of the leads has not improved over the last 12 months.

WEBSITE DESIGN/PROVIDER

Last year the Website Design/Provider category provided the closest finish of all categories, with the runner-up and write-in candidate TK Productions pushing the champion Dealerskins to within one-one thousandth of a point.

This year, it was another heated battle. With the second highest score overall (and highest point total for a non-finance company) in this year’s survey at 118.4 points, TK Productions claimed the Diamond Award. Dealers touted their competitive pricing, flexibility, customer support and ability to provide robust content.

Another relative newcomer wrestled their way to the Platinum Award. DealerOn (also known as eDealer Tools) captured 116.4 points, good enough to win all but four other categories. Dealers praised their web sites for their use of unique technology, including a virtual “talking” assistant to engage the buyers in order to turn the visit into a lead

Last year’s winner Dealerskins received the highest number of votes in the survey, and they were once again very favorable votes, netting 111.5 votes to secure the Gold Award. They too, were praised for customer service, robust content, and ability to turn web site hits into leads.

What was surprising in this category was that the category average actually dropped three full points from 2005, in spite of both the number of, and the incredibly high scores posted by the winners. It certainly indicates that dealers are very polarized in their perception of the value of their web site host/designer.

CALL TRACKING

In 2005, there were six companies nominated in the Call Tracking category, and only one garnered both sufficient and strong enough votes to qualify. This year, the field was pared back to just three providers, and while all three qualified to be ranked, there was a substantial growth in the number of write-ins.

The Diamond Award went to Callbright, of Mountain View, CA, as they netted a 107.2 rating. Callbright’s price point, their inbound call review program, and outbound broadcast recording were the key points of dealer’s satisfaction.

A company that is certainly not a newcomer to the call tracking industry is CallSource, of Westlake Village, CA. They posted a score of 103.8 to earn the Platinum Award. Dealers appreciated their pricing, their ability to record inbound and outbound calls, as well as their training options.

Last year’s class champion slipped to the Gold Award in 2006. Who’s Calling, the company in the category with the largest market penetration, received the 101.5 points, tying the category average. Ease of use and reliability were the factors that impacted the votes from their dealer-users.

ONLINE AUCTIONS – PURCHASING INVENTORY

Over the past six years, dealers of all sizes have turned to the internet from sourcing auction vehicles to being able to eliminate travel and time away from the dealership.

This year, one of the pioneers of online dealer auctions, Manheim Auctions, earned enough dealer support to be named the Diamond Award winner. Manheim scored 106.4 points from dealers who opined that their selection of vehicles (90,000 per week), the Manheim Market Reports tool, and ease of use were the features that made them stand out above the rest.

Last year’s winner, GMAC SmartAuction takes home the Platinum Award with a rating of 104.5 points. This year’s votes may have been additionally influenced by non-GM dealers and even independents as SmartAuction also operates UsedVehicleAuction.com.

With the category average of 103.6, no other online dealer auction was able to meet the cutoff.

AUCTION COMPANIES - TRADITIONAL

In what has to be a significant surprise, Auto Dealer Monthly decided against awarding a Diamond Award in the category of Auction Companies - Traditional, partially due to the way the ballot was offered.

The survey offered the option of “Independent ________,” providing the respondent the opportunity to write-in their favorite independent auction, in lieu of an “Other” category. Unfortunately an overwhelming number of loyal respondents voted for the Independent category, rating them extremely high, but omitting the name of the Independent auctions. The Independent category received nearly 40% of all votes cast in the category, and received a rating of 107.5, easily outdistancing the second place company. However, just like in 2005 no independent auction received by themselves the minimum number of votes to be named. As a result, it was deemed best to eliminate the Diamond.

After being shut out in the online category, Adesa, Inc., Carmel, IN, scored 104.9 points, to narrowly lay claim to the Platinum Award in the Auction Companies category. Dealers named customer service, auto locations and facilities, and vehicle selection as their strength in 2006.

Last year’s winner, and this year’s Online Auction winner was edged out of the second position and slipped to the Gold Award. Manheim Auctions received 104.4 points from this year’s respondents.

The average for the category came in at 103.9 points.

SALES TRAINER

Once again the magazine and website felt it had a good handle on the nominees for Sales Trainer. Once again it missed the mark, as the category had the second most write-in ballots cast, which offered an interesting twist.

Due to the significant number of write-ins, as well as the actual level of the scores, for the second straight year, the “Other” category score actually outscored all other nominees at 117.1 – one of the highest averages in the surveys, and 10.7 points ahead of the second position. There was such a wide spread number of write-ins named however, that no single write-in gathered enough votes to receive and award. Therefore, in a similar decision to the Auction Companies – Traditional category, no Diamond Award winner was named.

Additionally, with write-ins scoring so well, the overall category average was pushed to 104.3. At this level, in spite of heaving voting, just two sales trainers of the renowned candidates offered was able to score above the category average.

With a score of 106.4, Joe Verde Group, San Juan Capistrano, CA, received the Platinum Award for Sales Trainer, based largely on the diversity of training offered – both classroom, videos, and products. Noteworthy is Verde’s score noted an improvement of 5.4 points over 2005.

The Cardone Group, Orlando, FL, netted 104.3 points, tying the group average, which was sufficient enough to be named the Gold Award winner.

SERVICE CONTRACT PROVIDER

For the second straight year, the results of the voting in the Service Category were polarized. Either dealers were very happy with their provider, or they were very unhappy.

One company that dealers certainly were happy with was CNA National Warranty Company, Scottsdale, AZ, the Diamond Award winner for the second straight year. CNA impressed dealers receiving a score of 113.6. Outstanding service by its field agents, value pricing and excellent claims service were noted by the dealers naming CNA.

The Platinum Award was presented to Universal Underwriters Group, of Shawnee Mission, KS. Scoring 110.1 points, dealers were impressed with their claims service, professionalism and training offered by the field agents.

JM&A Group, Deerfield Beach, FL, earned the Gold Award for 2006. JM&A scored 108.2 points in a tightly grouped upper tier. Again, excellent training, a broad portfolio of available products and excellent claims administration were the basis of their dealers’ satisfaction.

FINANCE AND INSURANCE TRAINER

Just like 2005, the Finance and Insurance Trainer category was one that in the end became tightly associated with the service contract providers.

Actually the category almost became a carbon copy of 2005, with the exception that the margin separating the two winners became much smaller, and the category average moving even higher – the highest of all categories at 106.9! With the category average raising the level of qualification so high, just two providers were able to crack the threshold.

Based in Clearwater, FL, and with 115.2 points, United Development Systems, Inc. outdistanced the field to repeat as the Diamond Award winner. Dealers cited their featured trainer, David Sipus, along with their F&I menu selling classes as the keys toward their satisfaction.

The JM&A Group claimed their second Platinum Award (and fourth in two years) by scoring 109 ranking points. Their ability to provide quality in-dealership training across the country, as well as an outstanding week long training class at their corporate headquarters were consistently named by those dealers queried.

DESKING SOFTWARE

Whether it be for use in Special Finance departments, or sales desks, desking software has become a staple in many dealerships. The field of providers has at the same time shrunk over recent years. Five nominees of national scope were again nominated.

Voting was impacted by a significant write-in vote, much of them maligning the write-in candidates. In the end, only one company reigned supreme in this category, capable of matching the category average of 96.4.

The Diamond Award recipient for the second consecutive year was Dealer Marketing Services, Inc. for their ProMax product, with a score of 96.4. In particular, the dealers which voted for ProMax named the robust versatility of the product, its CRM capabilities, along with superior customer support as the strength of the product.

CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT (CRM) TOOLS

What a difference a year can make. Last year, the winner was head and shoulders above the second place position, and those two were the only companies ranking above (and it was way above) the category average. Last year’s winner did not receive enough votes to qualify, so a new Diamond Award winner was destined to be named.

For 2006, not only was the category much tighter, there were five companies that topped the group average of 100.7. Finally, once again a number of dealers opted to vote for two providers, making it apparent the market is still rather fluid, as dealers were obviously voting for their “current” and “former” providers.

When the dust settled, in one of the most competitive categories, no one could touch BZ Results of Malvern, PA. They stormed the category having not ranked in 2005, and garnering the Diamond Award with 106.8 points. Dealers praised their CRM tool’s ease of operation. Additionally they noted the virtual phone and BDC manager functions, along with their unique “Buzz-Mail”.

Asked to comment on the award, Sean Wolfington from BZ Results commented, “Our best dealers sell 500+ cars a month online because their CRM strategy includes effective search engine & email marketing to create traffic for less with websites that turn traffic into leads and the right process and tools to turn leads into profits.”

Earning the Platinum Award for the second straight year was Reynolds and Reynolds Company of Dayton, OH. Dealers have showed their increased satisfaction with the company under the reins of Finbarr O’Neil as their scores improved 5.2 points over their 2005 totals (also demonstrating how competitive the category was). Dealers voting for them noted the fact that most already were utilizing their DMS software allowing for seamless data integration, no additional software to learn and their large field support staff as factors in their decisions.

The Gold Award went to another newcomer to the awards in 2006, iCarMagic, LLC. The company scored 102.1 points, with dealers commenting on ease of use, and affordable pricing.

In total, five companies exceeded the category average of 100.7. Besides the award winners, congratulations and recognition is extended to NetTrak, Barker, TX, with 101.6 points, and to The Higher Gear Group, LLC, Hoffman Estates, IL with 100.9 points as two additional companies praised by the responding dealers.

DATA MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS

For the second consecutive year Data Management Systems was the category held in least favor by the voting dealers. In 2005, the category held the bottom rung with an average score of 94.3. It got significantly worse in 2006 with a category average of only 87.5. Indeed, as opposed to the general trend of the competition where dealers were rewarding their vendors, here it in many cases it appeared to be a chastising.

The 2005 champ, Universal Computer Systems (UCS) eked out a second consecutive Diamond Award, netting 97.7. Dealers voting for UCS named customer support and training, along with competitive pricing as the biggest reasons they cast favorable votes. They also praised it as having a complete offering of PC based software.

Bigger was better in the DMS category as well as the dominant provider in the marketplace, The Reynolds and Reynolds Company, Dayton, OH, was named as the Platinum Award winner (also for the second straight year), with a score of 97.4 points, narrowly missing the top spot. Dealers cited bullet-proof reliability for the product, outstanding training and support for the system, and its overall versatility as the primary reasons for the high marks.

The Gold Award in the category went to AutoSoft International of West Middlesex, PA. AutoSoft netted 90.7 points, and received a big boost of support from some of the independent dealer contingent. The company was especially praised for its affordability, as well as its reporting features by both franchise and independent dealers alike.

INVENTORY MANAGEMENT

The new category added for 2006, Inventory Management was included due to the number of companies and services being utilized by dealers to streamline inventories as well as to model the ideal inventory.

Not surprisingly, there were a number of write-in votes, but one company came out at the head of the pack. With a score of 98.7, American Auto Exchange, Inc., part of JMsolutions™, a division of JM Family Enterprises, Inc.of Deerfield Beach, FL, captured the Diamond Award. Dealers were impressed with their statistical ideal inventory modeling and their live appraisal feature.

The average score of this new category came in at 98.1, which was slightly below the average score, but still impressive for a new grouping.

INDIRECT LENDING AND LEASING: PRIME CREDIT CAPTIVE LENDERS

The credit arm of manufacturers becomes a major factor in many dealers overall competitiveness in the retail marketplace. Whether it be the incentivized rates, their credit decisioning practices, or their retail customer loyalty, dealers have strong feelings about the manufacturer’s practices.

The omissions in the ratings of some of the largest captives in the business should speak volumes about dealer sentiment. Clearly, however, there are some dealers who are very satisfied with the performance of their captive lenders.

In particular, it seems that no one can touch Toyota Motor Credit. Repeating as the Diamond Award winner in the Prime Credit Captive Lending category, TMC received the highest score of all time at 119.7, and outdistancing second place by over 10 points. So strong was TMC that it improved its class winning score from 2005 by 7.4 points. Not coincidentally, Toyota dealers enjoyed a record year in 2005, and certainly their financial arm played a significant part. Consistent buying practices and aggressive rates were named by dealers as the most significant factors in their considerations.

After suffering through a miserable 2005, there was something to celebrate at Ford. After being conspicuously missing in 2005, Ford Motor Credit returned with vengeance, capturing the Platinum Award with 109.2 points.

Improving their score 4.6 points from 2005, Chrysler Financial Services once again achieved the Gold Award.

Chrysler dealers rated their finance arm at 107.8 points again praising their consistency and rates.

Conspicuously missing from those companies ranked was GMAC along with American Honda Finance. Both companies received a substantial number of votes, but were unable to climb above the category average of 105 points.

INDIRECT LENDING AND LEASING: PRIME CREDIT NON-CAPTIVE LENDERS

In a category that includes every local bank and credit union in the country, and had 20 nominees out of the ranks of large banks and credit unions, one would expect diverse opinions and favorites. Certainly that held true in this category of Prime Credit Non-Captive Lenders. It also yielded yet another surprise on the heels of Auto Dealer Monthly’s annual Auto Finance Survey (September 2005 issue). It demonstrates that the financial climate is fluid by nature.

This year’s winner isn’t even a true finance company. Credit Union Direct Lending, also known as CUDL, from Rancho Cucamonga, CA was named by the responding dealers as the Diamond Award winner. Now serving dealers in 41 states, CUDL is actually a company that provides an integrated technological platform that allows dealers to connect consumers to hundreds of credit unions indirectly, allowing the dealership to have the deal decisioned and contracted right at the dealership.

CUDL netted a score of 108.5 as it marched ahead of last year’s winner. Dealers named deep buying and very competitive rates as the most favored features of the company.

Stepping back one spot for 2006 was Citizens Bank, who was named the winner of the Platinum Award. Citizens scored 107.6 points, with virtually all polled dealers stating the same things about their favorites: Consistent and aggressive decisioning, aggressive interest rates, and quick funding.

Wells Fargo Auto Finance offered another surprise for the category in 2006. Wells Fargo jumped past some very sizeable and strong competition in 2006 to net the Gold Award with 105.3 points.

Two additional companies made the ranking list, coming in above the class average of 101. JP Morgan Chase Bank, last year’s Platinum winner netted 101.8 points, and deserves the congratulations and recognition afforded by the responding dealers. Additionally, another bank most often note for their strength in the area of Special Finance forged their way into the DCA rankings. HSBC Auto Finance Corporation gained 101.1 points to make the Top Five in a very competitive category.

PRIME CREDIT LEASING

The leasing environment has remained a volatile one over the last seven years. With residual values that either restrict the market or severely impact the lenders at lease end, lenders have been going in opposite directions at the same time. Certainly the ability to have a strong leasing presence has been a boom for many retailers.

In keeping with the prime lender rankings in the captive ranks, one might expect the “Big Four” to dominate the Prime Credit – Leasing Category. That wasn’t exactly the case. The category average came in at 100.8, and only two made the cut.

Toyota Motor Credit dominated the category in a manner similar to that in Prime Credit, becoming the first to earn a “double-double”. TMC has now earned “Double-Diamond” Awards in each year of the Dealer’s Choice Awards. They won the category with a score of 116.7, and increase of over four points from 2005.

Dealers again cited aggressive lending practices, competitive residuals and lease factors as the strongest attributes of TMC.

Ford Motor Credit improved their score five points to 110.3, jumping from fourth place in 2005 to receive the Platinum Award in 2006. Like Toyota, dealers voting for FMCC named both improved residuals and lease factors as the keys to their satisfaction.

The surprise entry into the category was JP Morgan Chase Bank. Long known for competitive leasing, Chase was rewarded by responding dealers with 100.9 points, just enough to slip in above the category average taking the Gold Award.

SUB-PRIME CREDIT FINANCE COMPANY

A noted Special Finance trainer has often said, “The sub-prime finance company environment is like looking at the sea – you have high tides, low tides, sometimes you are riding the wave, and some times you are in the troughs, and the lenders are always moving.”

If any further proof was needed all one would have to do is to compare the results of the 2004 and 2005 Auto Finance Surveys (September 2004, 2005) conducted by Auto Dealer Monthly, along with the results of the Dealers’ Choice Awards in 2005 and 2006. It can be a topsy-turvy world, and no company has repeated on top of either list.

The winner of the Diamond Award, WFS Financial, made the 2005 DCA rankings, coming in fifth place. Dealers have appreciated their consistent buying practices along with strong advances and quick funding. WFS was acquired by Wachovia Bank in late 2005, but it seemed to have little negative impact on dealer’s perception as they scored them with 116.3 points, a massive 13.1 point increase over 2005!

Last year’s surprise top company, Regional Acceptance Corporation once again claimed hardware taking the Platinum Award. Regional scored 114.1 points, as their aggressive buying and first-time buyer’s program gathered frequent praises from dealers.

CitiFinancial, a merging of three companies – TransSouth, AutoOne, and Arcadia – impressed dealers favorably once again to reclaim the Gold Award for 2006. (TransSouth held the award in 2005.) In the closest battle for any position, CitiFinancial outdistanced Wells Fargo Financial by just 0.1 point, posting 109.2 points to nab the award.

Four additional Sub-Prime Credit Finance Companies were rated above the category average of 100.8, earning the recognition to be included in the rankings.

Wells Fargo Auto Finance, barely edged out for third place, finished fourth with a score of 109.1, and increase of 5.4 points from 2005.

Following Wells Fargo was one of the biggest surprises of the awards. Nuvell Financial Services Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of GMAC, scored 109 points, also just barely missing the Gold Award. This is the first time in any finance survey conducted by Auto Dealer Monthly that Nuvell has ever been named, and it certainly shows a shift in GM dealers’ sentiment.

Two of the other longtime pillars of strength in sub-prime credit also finished above the category average. HSBC Auto Finance, at 103.3 and AmeriCredit Financial Services at 102.1 also enjoyed the praises of responding dealers.

All in all, the category totaled seven ranked companies, the highest total of any category in the survey.

That sums up the 2006 Auto Dealer Monthly Dealers’ Choice Awards. We thank the dealers and dealership personnel for taking the time to submit their votes, and we congratulate all the named companies. Most importantly, the winners have been chosen by dealers and their personnel, meaning that as other dealers begin their search for products, servicers and finance companies, a level of confidence has already been determined by those already using them in the marketplace.

Certainly the bar has been set, and those on the outside looking in have 12 short months to raise their game to the next level.
 
Vol 3, Issue 4
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