Now in its 15th year, the Dealers’ Choice Awards program was designed to give dealers and dealership managers and workers the opportunity to draw national attention to the vendors, suppliers, and auto finance sources that help them succeed.
This year’s awards covered 35 categories and named 71 companies as first-place Diamond, second-place Platinum, and third-place Gold winners — a total of 103 awards. The winners met at Industry Summit in New Orleans on Wednesday, Nov. 6, to accept their plaques.
Dealers’ Choice Awards are not easy to come by. Every voter manually entered each of their partner companies’ names and scored them on the quality of the product or service itself, customer service and support, value for money spent, and whether they would recommend the company to another dealer. Only the top three providers rated above the mean score in each category took home an award.
The 2019 program included 35 categories, including one new category: Service Retention. Last year’s survey included three new categories: Digital Sales and F&I, F&I Product Training, and F&I Financing. (Chat, Online Inventory Listing Management, and Internet Training were discontinued in 2018.)
The staff at Auto Dealer Today and F&I and Showroom thanks the readers who completed our survey and tips its hat to the winners.
“As in years past, we see a mix of returning champions, several new players, and companies that won awards in the past but were supplanted this year,” said David Gesualdo, group publisher and editorial director of Bobit Business Media’s Dealer Group. “Whatever the results, we appreciate our readers for voting, and we know our winners appreciate it as well.”
And the Winners Are …
Cars.com won the first-place Diamond award for best New-Vehicle Lead provider after winning Gold last year. Cars.com has finished in the top three nine times since 2008; this year, the company switched places with Dealer.com, which settled for third after winning the Diamond in 2018.
Autotrader won Platinum for the second consecutive year after winning five straight Diamonds from 2013 to 2017. Autotrader has won Diamond, Platinum, or Gold every year since the Dealers’ Choice Awards began in 2005.
Cars.com also finished first in the Used-Vehicle Leads category — for the third consecutive year. Cars.com continued a remarkable 15-year streak in which the company failed to finish in the top three only once.
Autotrader also has missed only one top three finish among Used-Vehicle Lead providers in the past 15 years. Autotrader took home the Platinum award after winning Gold last year. CarsDirect won Gold for the third time in four years after winning Platinum in 2018.
Special Finance Leads
For the third straight year, CarsDirect and Auto Credit Express were the only two Special Finance Lead providers to qualify for a Dealers’ Choice Award. It was the fourth straight Diamond for CarsDirect, which has only failed to win an award once in the past 11 years.
Auto Credit Express has won nine awards in the past 10 contests, including eight straight, and took home Platinum for the third straight year in 2019.
Dealer.com won its second straight Diamond award — its third since the category was introduced in 2013 — as the dealers’ choice for best Digital Marketing provider.
ELEAD1ONE was the runner-up after finishing in third place last year and winning Diamond the year before that; ELEAD1ONE now owns a six-year streak in the seven-year-old category. Digital Air Strike took home the Gold after finishing out of the running in 2018.
Digital Sales and F&I
New in 2018, the Digital Sales & F&I category saw a complete reshuffling in its second year. AutoFi won the Diamond award, Darwin Automotive won Platinum, and Axiom won Gold in 2019 after finishing in third, first, and second place, respectively, last year.
Dealer eProcess won its first-ever Diamond award in the Website category, improving upon its third-place finish in last year’s contest.
“Dealer eProcess strives to be the best in customer service and innovative website tools,” said owner Joe Gillespie. “Thank you to all of our amazing dealers who have voted for us and recognize the importance of what our full suite of automotive technology means to their business.”
Dealer.com won Platinum after taking home the Diamond in 2017 and 2018; the company hasn’t failed to place in the top three among Website providers since 2006. eBizAutos won the Gold award, adding to a 12-year streak that is second only to Dealer.com in the category.
eBizAutos won its third consecutive Diamond award for Mobile Media, the company’s fifth first-place finish since the category was introduced in 2013.
“eBizAutos is honored to receive this prestigious award,” said Senad Maslesa, the company’s president. “After 18 years in business, our team continues to set the standard for online dealer marketing and websites. We are thankful to all of the dealers who voted for our products and services and who continue to trust us with managing their online marketing efforts.”
Second place went to Dealer.com, also for the third straight year, and Dealer Synergy won Gold for the fourth time in five years. The only other company to win an award in this category is Automotive Mobile Solutions, which finished in third place last year.
Social Media Management
For the second straight year and third time since the category was introduced in 2015, Naked Lime won Diamond for Social Media Management. Digital Air Strike took home the Platinum award, its first in the category, and Ally won Gold. Naked Lime and Ally have finished in the top three for all five years of the category’s existence.
Dominion Dealer Solutions won the Diamond award for Reputation Management after settling for Gold in 2018; Dominion has won three Diamonds in the category and hasn’t failed to crack the top three since 2015.
Second place went to DMEautomotive, the company’s first award in the Reputation Management category. Digital Air Strike returned to the rankings with a Gold award win after finishing out of the running last year.
Strategic Marketing returned to the top of the Direct Mail rankings this year after finishing second or third for five straight contests. The company won Diamond eight straight times starting in 2005, then failed to place in 2013 before starting a now-five-year streak the next year.
The Platinum award went to Action Integrated Marketing, which improved on its third-place finish in 2018, and ProMax took home the Gold after winning five straight Direct Mail Diamonds.
ELEAD1ONE remains the Virtual BDC category’s only Diamond winner since it was introduced in 2016. ELEAD1ONE is also the only company to finish in the top three every year in that timespan.
Not far behind is AllCall Multi-Channel BDC, which has now won the Platinum award three years in a row. Dealer’s Greatest Assets won Gold for the second straight contest.
MAX Digital jumped from Gold to Diamond for Inventory Management, beating out last year’s Diamond winner, vAuto, which settled for Platinum but owns the longest winning streak in the category, having placed in the top three every year since 2009.
DealerSocket won Gold after taking home the Platinum award in 2018. Dealertrack has finished out of the running since its run of three straight Diamonds ended in 2017.
Hiring and Recruitment
GSFSGroup and its TalentNest platform won a fourth straight award and second Diamond for Hiring and Recruitment; the category was introduced in 2016.
“Thank you to everyone who voted for GSFSGroup this year. We are honored to have received three Dealers’ Choice Awards [in 2019] and will continue to make our partners throughout the country our first priority in everything we do,” said Guy Koenig, president of GSFSGroup.
AutoCareersOnline won Platinum after winning Diamond last year. AutoPeople finished in third place to win its first award in the Hiring and Recruitment category, edging out last year’s Gold winner, Hireology, to end that company’s three-year top three streak.
Cardone Group stormed into the Sale Training ranks with a Diamond award win, its first award in the category.
Close on Cardone’s heels was American Financial & Automotive Services, which took home the Platinum after consecutive first-place finishes in 2017 and 2018. Joe Verde Group won Gold, notching its 15th consecutive win for Sales Training, a run that includes five Diamond awards.
United Development Systems won the Diamond award for the seventh straight time this year; the company has settled for Gold only once, in 2012. UDS’s 15-year run in the category is second to none.
American Financial & Automotive Services won Platinum for the second consecutive year, building on a five-year streak that includes a Diamond award (shared with UDS) in 2017. GSFSGroup’s Gold award marked the company’s first appearance in the F&I Training category.
F&I Product Training
American Financial & Automotive Services earned first-place honors in the F&I Product Training category for the second straight time; the category made its debut last year. RoadVantage won the Platinum award after winning Gold in 2018.
Last year’s Platinum winner, National Automotive Experts and NWAN, took home the Gold this year.
“We are honored to be recognized by the dealer community as one of the top product training companies in the industry. Winning Gold in F&I Product Training doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen in a vacuum,” said David Neuenschwander, president of NAE/NWAN. “We have a great team of passionate and dedicated associates that work tirelessly with our agent partners to bring relevant and innovative products and training material to the market. Our stated goal and our passion is to help our dealers and agent partners grow their businesses and product training, which is a critical component to our success. We are grateful to be recognized by <ital>Auto Dealer Today<ital> with this award.”
Special Finance Training
The second of American Financial & Automotive Services’ three Diamond awards for training in this year’s contest was for Special Finance Training, a category in which the company has climbed from third to second to first place over the past three years.
NCM Associates was this year’s Platinum winner after taking home Gold in 2018, swapping places with DealerStrong.
“Thank you to all of our amazing clients and those that I teach at NCM Associates, who put their trust in us,” said Greg Goebel, president and CEO of DealerStrong, which now provides training services to NCM. “They allow us to aid them in their pursuit of excellence in growing their special finance operation and do what we love doing.”
American Financial & Automotive Services completed the Diamond trifecta with its fourth consecutive first-place finish among Compliance Training providers; the company won Platinum in 2015, the year the category was introduced.
This year’s Platinum winner was Automotive Compliance Education (ACE) and Mosaic Compliance Services. United Development Systems took home the Gold after winning three straight Platinums; UDS and American Financial are the only companies to finish in the top three since the Compliance Training category was added in 2015.
DealerPRO Service Solutions remains the only provider to win a Diamond award in the Service Training category, which made its debut in 2016.
“Thank you to the dealers who have recognized DealerPRO as the No. 1 Service Training company, who know what it takes to succeed in fixed operations — accountability to higher standards, consistent customer experiences, and performance-driven growth that exceeds expectations!” said CEO Don Reed. “DealerPRO is committed to you, the retail auto dealer, and your customers, and we will continue to pursue excellence in service and parts operations through our professional fixed ops training programs.”
Cardone Group won Platinum, marking its first appearance in the category, and American Financial & Automotive Services settled for Gold after finishing in second place last year.
Service Retention (New for 2019)
This year’s only new category was Service Retention, introduced to reflect the growing use of technology to capture new and returning fixed ops business. SAVY by EasyCare was the inaugural Diamond winner, followed by Maximus Auto Group and Helion Technologies, which took home the second-place Platinum and third-place Gold awards, respectively.
“MAG is dedicated to providing the best customer experience in the industry,” said Dean Harrison, president of Maximus Auto Group. “Receiving the Platinum-level Dealers’ Choice Award for Service Retention is an endorsement of our products and our approach of making customer service our top priority and a great honor. Our team is thankful for the opportunity to provide these unparalleled experiences to our dealers and their customers.”
RoadVantage won its third straight Diamond award for F&I Products, continuing a streak of top three finishes that begin in 2015.
“We are deeply honored to be chosen as the Diamond winner in the F&I Products category for three years running,” said CEO Garret Lacour. “We thank our RoadVantage team members for all they do to provide an exceptional customer experience every day. We couldn’t be more pleased that our efforts have made us the No. 1 choice of dealers nationwide for F&I products.”
National Auto Care earned Platinum honors for the second consecutive year after winning Gold in 2016 and 2017.
“I continue to be humbled by the recognition we receive from dealerships as a Platinum-level F&I Product provider,” said NAC CEO Tony Wanderon. “The entire NAC team takes great care in developing and launching products. It is so satisfying to know that our partners believe in these products as much as we do.”
IAS took home the Gold, its sixth win in seven years, a run that includes four Diamond awards.
“Thank you to all of our clients for voting for us to be recognized in the best F&I Products category,” said Patrick Brown, president and CEO of IAS. “We’re proud to serve you with one of the most complete and customizable product lines in the industry, and we look forward to continuing to surpass expectations by focusing on each dealership’s unique business goals.”
CNA National perpetuated a remarkable 15-year run in the Service Contract category with yet another Diamond award; CNAN has finished in second place only once, in 2011.
“These awards confirm for us that dealers recognize our value in the marketplace and appreciate the consumer-focused products and best-in-class service we consistently provide,” said Alan Miller, senior vice president of sales for CNA National. “We have nothing but gratitude and thanks for the dealerships that trust their customers to us and vote for us year after year, as well as our experienced agents and dedicated employees, whose determined efforts to provide the consistent, unmatched service that keeps us in first place.”
Nearly as impressive is the streak owned by AUL, which won its second straight Platinum award following four consecutive Gold wins from 2014 to 2017.
“Since winners are ultimately selected by our customers, <ital>Auto Dealer Today<ital>’s Dealers’ Choice Awards are truly one of the most meaningful and gratifying,” said Jimmy Atkinson, president and CEO of AUL. “They validate all the hard work and dedication our teams put in to providing the very best customer experience. And now that we have expanded our product offerings and become a one-stop F&I shop, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure our customers, agents, and dealers receive the superior support they’ve come to expect of AUL.”
The Gold award for Service Contract went to GSFSGroup, its first win in the category.
Service Contract Reinsurance
Portfolio finished in first place among Service Contract Reinsurance providers for the second straight year and the seventh time since the category was introduced in 2008; Portfolio is the only perennial award winner in that timespan.
CNA National took home the Platinum for the second straight year and has won five Diamonds, five Platinums, and one Gold award in its 12-year history in the category. SouthwestRe won its third consecutive Gold award.
“For the third straight year, SouthwestRe has won the Dealers’ Choice Gold Award for Service Contract Reinsurance. It is an honor to know that our dealers trust and value our knowledge and expertise. Many thanks to our outstanding agents and our dedicated, hard-working employees who made it all possible,” said Scott Craigmile, senior vice president of sales and marketing.
F&I Desking Software
Reynolds and Reynolds now owns a seven-year streak of top three finishes in the F&I Desking Software category, winning Diamond this year for the first time since 2008; Reynolds has tallied 10 awards since the category was introduced in 2005.
Dealertrack returned to the rankings after one year off to take home the Platinum, its 12th award in the category. The Gold award went to CDK Global for the second consecutive year.
Added to the Dealers’ Choice Awards program in 2015, the F&I Technology category has named only five winners in five years. That list now includes IAS, which broke into the category with a Gold award this year.
But the first-place winner was StoneEagle F&I, which earned Diamond honors for the second consecutive year and has finished in the top three in every contest since 2016.
“We are honored to receive the Diamond Dealers’ Choice Award for F&I Technology and grateful to be recognized again this year,” said Jason Gillette, vice president sales and marketing at StoneEagle F&I. “We appreciate the support of the dealers who voted for us and our long-term partners who make many of our dealer relationships possible. Thanks to our extraordinary team and their ongoing commitment to excellence, which correlates to our win this year and in years past.”
MaximTrak won Platinum, also for the second consecutive year, and has yet to miss a top three finish in the F&I Technology category.
Reynolds and Reynolds won Diamond as the dealers’ choice for best CRM provider for the second straight time, its fourth award in the category in as many years.
ELEAD1ONE improved to Platinum status after winning Gold the past two years and Platinum before that; ELEAD1ONE also has six Diamond wins in the category and is on a 10-year top three streak.
ProMax owns the second longest streak in the category, having notched a win every year since 2012; the company took home the Gold for CRM this year.
“We want to give a big thank you to our dealer-customers for voting for ProMax in multiple categories year after year,” said COO Shane Born. “It’s always an honor to win awards, particularly when they are voted on by the dealers. We work hard every day to ensure our dealers’ success, and we know that having a great product isn’t enough on its own; ultimately, it’s about fostering relationships that are mutually rewarding. We believe our team here at ProMax is second to none, and we appreciate the dealers who think so too!”
Reynolds and Reynolds also repeated as Diamond winner for best DMS provider, its third straight first-place ranking and 15th straight award in the category, tying a DCA record.
This year’s Platinum winner, Dealertrack, is not far behind, having placed in the top three every year since 2007; Dealertrack last won Diamond in 2016. RouteOne took home the Gold, notching its first win in the DMS category.
The Data Mining category made its debut in 2016 and has named only four winners in four years: AutoAlert, DealerSocket, Dominion Dealer Solutions, and ELEAD1ONE.
Dominion and ELEAD1ONE won Diamond and Platinum this year, respectively; neither has failed to place in the top three since the category was introduced. AutoAlert won Gold after finishing out of the running in 2018, edging out DealerSocket, which earned Platinum honors last year.
Ally SmartAuction took home its second straight Diamond award for best Online Auction provider. Ally SmartAuction has yet to finish out of the running since the awards and the category debuted in 2005.
Manheim added to a 14-year winning streak for Online Auction, repeating as the Platinum winner following consecutive Diamonds in 2016 and 2017. eBay Motors won Gold, also for the second straight year.
Manheim and ADESA continued a run of dominance among Traditional Auction providers that is unmatched by any pair of companies in any DCA category.
Manheim won the Diamond award for the seventh straight year and has settled for Gold only once, in 2006, and never finished outside the top three in 15 years. ADESA won its seventh consecutive Platinum award and has 12 category awards to its name.
America’s Auto Auction repeated as the Gold winner for Traditional Auction.
Prime Captive Finance Company
GM Financial broke into the Dealers’ Choice Awards with a Diamond win for best Prime Captive Finance Company in 2015. The company has yet to yield top honors in the category since, taking home its fifth straight Diamond this year.
Ford Credit won Platinum after winning Gold the year before and has finished in the top three eight times since 2006. TD Auto Finance finished in third place to take home its first award in the category.
Prime Non-Captive Finance Company
Ally matched GM Financial’s efforts in the preceding category with its own fifth straight Diamond win for best Prime Non-Captive Finance Company.
The category has recognized 19 finance companies in 15 years. Perennial contender Wells Fargo, winner of 10 awards in the category since 2006, reemerged with a Platinum win after finishing outside the top three last year. Capital One also returned after a one-year absence to take home the Gold.
Subprime Finance Company
Capital One and Wells Fargo perpetuated their longstanding rivalry for the Subprime Finance Company crown, with Capital One prevailing as the Diamond winner for the second straight year; Well Fargo notched its second straight Platinum win. Neither company has finished out of the running in this category since 2011.
This year’s Gold winner was Credit Acceptance, the company’s first Dealers’ Choice Award. Regional Acceptance failed to rank for the first time since 2009, ending a 10-year winning streak.
Little has changed in the Biweekly Payments category since 2015, when US Equity Advantage won Diamond and SMART Payment Plan won Platinum. Neither has budged since.
USEA was ranked No. 1 for the fifth straight year and has won six straight overall. SMART won Diamond in 2013 and 2014 and owns the longest winning streak in the category at seven years.
No other provider qualified for an award in the Biweekly Payments category for the third consecutive year.
The F&I Financing category was introduced in 2018, when PayLink Direct, Line\5, and Universal Lenders won Diamond, Platinum, and Gold, respectively. This year, Universal Lenders moved up to No. 1.
“We are so proud that our dealers awarded us the Diamond Dealers’ Choice Award, which clearly validates our ‘Dealer Friendly Dealer First’ approach to F&I product financing,” said Universal Lenders founder and CEO Jeff Jacobs. “Making it easy works!”
Line\5 repeated as the Platinum winner and PayLink Direct took home the Gold in a category that is likely to draw more competition in the years ahead.
“We’re honored that so many of our amazing dealer clients voted for PayLink as their preferred finance partner,” said Brenda Kereakes, vice president of PayLink Direct’s Dealer division. “We pride ourselves in providing quality products, exceptional service and innovative solutions. Receiving a Dealers’ Choice Award validates our team’s efforts as a best-in-class payment plan provider to dealerships nationwide.”