For 17 years, the Dealers’ Choice Awards program has recognized the industry’s best vendors, suppliers, and finance partners by asking dealers and dealership personnel to complete a 42-category online survey. Dealers’ Choice Awards are not easy to come by and this year’s awards recognized 80 companies.
Readers of Auto Dealer Today and F&I and Showroom were asked to manually enter each of their partner companies’ names and score 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: first-place Diamond, second-place Platinum, and third-place Gold honors.
When the Dealers’ Choice Awards debuted in 2005, the survey was in multiple-choice format with the option to write in a vote for a company that wasn’t listed. Beginning in 2012, every voter has had to manually enter the name of each company they wish to nominate. During the auditing process, all votes are reviewed, scrutinized and cleansed for companies that received votes in the wrong categories. Voter registrations are then spot-checked for validity.
As always, quality is more important than quantity, and scores are totaled, averaged and weighted for each provider. A value of 100 is then assigned to the overall average vote across all categories. Then the scores – including group averages and company scores – were adjusted relative to their position above or below the overall average. Final placement is determined by raw scores, and ties are rare but can occur if two providers earn the exact same raw score. It is also possible for fewer than three providers to earn an award in a given category.
Autotrader took home the first place Diamond award this year in the New- Vehicle Lead category, moving up from winning the Gold award in 2020, and the Platinum award in 2019. Digital Air Strike entered the New-Vehicle Lead scene for the first time in 2021, securing the Platinum award. Dealer.com was awarded Gold after finishing first in 2020 and second in 2019.
Autotrader was also awarded first place as the Used-Vehicle Leads provider of choice for the second year in a row, continuing its advancement from winning Platinum in 2019. CarGurus secured the second place Platinum award; and Cars. com finished in third place, after winning the Platinum award in 2020, and Diamond award in 2019.
For the past three years, the same three companies have made up the Digital Marketing category: Digital Air Strike, ELead1One, and Dealer.com. Digital Air Strike took home the Diamond award in 2021, after finishing second in 2020 and third in 2019.
“We are honored that so many dealers selected us for a record number of Dealers’ Choice Awards. It’s especially gratifying to be recognized as the top company providing multiple technology solutions to dealers, helping them with the evolving customer journey throughout the pandemic and inventory challenges,” said Alexi Venneri, CEO of Digital Air Strike. “We are incredibly thankful to have more than 7,000 clients and excited that they have recognized us as having the best CX technology that attracts, converts, and retains more customers, which is even more important during these uniquely challenging times. We have continued to find ways to innovate and partner with our dealer clients to bring to market the right solutions and services to improve the customer and dealer experience.”
ELead1One was awarded Platinum, realigning with its 2019 win, after falling to third place Gold in 2020. Dealer. com finished in third place, losing the Diamond title it secured in both 2020 and 2019.
F&I PRODUCT MARKETING
In its inaugural year, the newly added F&I Product Marketing Category awarded three winners, all of which also won awards in other categories. iA American Warranty Group, formerly SouthwestRe and IAS, won the Diamond award; United Development Systems (a Brown & Brown company) secured Platinum; and APC finished third, taking home the Gold award.
DIGITAL SALES AND F&I
Since its addition to the awards program in 2018, the same three companies have walked away winners of the Digital Sales and F&I category. Axiom finished in first place in 2021 and third place in both 2020 and 2019. AutoFi moved into the second place spot for 2021 after receiving the award in 2020 and 2019. In third place, we have Darwin Automotive, the company was awarded second place the previous two years.
For the second year in a row, Dealer.com was awarded first place Diamond in the Website provider category, moving up a level from its 2019 Platinum win. eBizAutos has also held steady in its second place Platinum standing for two years running, advancing from its Gold win in 2019. Dealer eProcess secured a third place Gold award for the second year, after taking a step down from the Diamond award in 2019.
eBizAutos has won the Diamond award in the Mobile Media category two out of the past three years, taking home Platinum in 2020. Digital Air Strike was awarded second place, and Dealer.com secured third place Gold after receiving Diamond in 2020 and Platinum in 2019.
SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT
Facebook entered the Social Media Management category and was awarded the first place Diamond award. Digital Air Strike finished in second for 2021, after being awarded first place in 2020 and second place in 2019. Ally secured third place Gold after finishing second and third in 2020 and 2019, respectively.
Digital Air Strike won the Diamond award for Reputation management for the second year in a row, after finishing in third in 2019. Reputation.com made its way to the winner’s stand as second place Platinum, and Dealer Rater secured the Gold award.
New to the scene, APC was awarded the top place Diamond award in the Direct Marketing category.
“Many customers leave dealership’s without purchasing vehicle service contracts (VSCs). Other customers have vehicle service contracts that are coming to an end. It’s APC’s job to see that customer retention is paramount and that dealers get real results through direct marketing of VSCs,” said Kyle McEvoy, president of APC. “APC is a leading marketer for these ancillary programs, direct- to-consumer, using data intelligence and innovative technologies. APC wants to thank all of our partners for their support, and this distinguished recognition. It has been our pleasure to successfully serve dealers for over twenty years. We understand the critical nature of retaining dealers’ customers and are dedicated to helping them maximize their profits with zero risks.”
Coming in second place, ProMax continues its legacy following a Diamond-win in 2020 and Gold win in 2019; and Strategic Marketing received the Gold award, after being awarded Platinum and Diamond in 2020 and 2019, respectively.
For the first time since the Virtual BDC category was introduced in 2016, the first place Diamond award went to someone other than ELead1One, with Dealer Rater newly securing the winning spot. Tecobi finished in second place, and third place Gold was awarded to ELead1One.
For the past two years, the same three companies have held their positions within the Inventory Management Category. In 2021 and 2020 respectively, vAuto won first place Diamond, Dealer- Socket was awarded second place Platinum, and MAXDigital secured third place Gold.
HIRING AND RECRUITMENT
In the Hiring and Recruitment category, GSFSGroup has taken home the Diamond award for three years running.
“I couldn’t be more thankful to our dealers for once again selecting GSFSGroup as award recipients for 2020. I’m proud of our dealers, agents, other partners and our associates for their continued efforts and incredibly hard work making the most of an unprecedented year,” said Guy Koenig, president of GSFSGroup. “We’re honored, but also humbled, recognizing what a great community we have in this industry that came together to hold each other up in such a challenging time as we have faced together.”
Indeed placed second, followed by AutoCareersOnline finishing third, after a Gold win in 2020 and Platinum win in 2019.
Continuing its winning streak in the Sales Training category, American Financial and Automotive Services remains at the top, winning Diamond in 2021 and 2020, and Platinum in 2019. Not far behind, Vanguard Dealer Services was awarded second-place Platinum, a new entrant to the category.
“We are truly honored and thank our loyal dealers and their employees for their confidence, support, and endorsement,” said Mickey Quinn, president of Vanguard Dealer Services. “We are very proud of the collective experience of our people, the A-rated products, and the services we provide. Vanguard Dealer Services mission is to provide quality F&I products and solutions to dealers and making certain their dealer partners have great success with the products. Training is a critical part of the process and in achieving success,” Quinn added. “Being recognized as a Platinum Award winner for Sales Training and Gold Award winner for F&I Product Training is a reflection of how we approach serving our customers and driving their success.”
Achieving the Gold award for Sales Training in 2021, is United Development Systems (a Brown & Brown Company).
For three consecutive years, the same three companies have secured wins in the F&I Training category. United Development Systems (a Brown & Brown company) has achieved first place Diamond for nine years running, while American Financial & Automotive Services holds onto its four-year streak as a Platinum winner. GSFSGroup secured Gold for the third year in a row.
F&I PRODUCT TRAINING
In the F&I Product Training category, RoadVantage earned first place honors for the second year in a row, following a second place win in 2019.
“We are honored to receive Diamond awards in two categories for the second straight year,” said RoadVantage CEO Garret Lacour. “Winning distinguished awards like these recognizes our success in holding our company to the highest standards. We want to thank the dealers who voted for us, our agent-partners who bring our programs to their clients, and our RoadVantage team members who are committed to providing an exceptional customer experience every day.”
Close behind, American Financial & Automotive Services took home the Platinum award for the second straight year, with a first place win in 2019. Vanguard Dealer Services is a new winner in the category, securing the Gold award.
Following two years where online training demanded center stage to keep the world turning, this category is new to the awards program for 2021. Taking home the inaugural Diamond award is Reahard & Associates; followed by American Financial & Automotive Services earning second place Platinum; and Mosaic Compliance Services with the Gold award.
“While Mosaic is proud to be honored with the Gold-award in Online Training, we are even more proud of the Diamond and Platinum-awards our channel partners achieved using our content,” said James Ganther Esq., president of Mosaic Compliance Services. “COVID forced a lot of dealership personnel to embrace on-demand distance learning, so it’s gratifying to be part of this growing solution.”
SPECIAL FINANCE TRAINING
In 2021, American Financial & Automotive Services received the Diamond award for the third consecutive year.
“We are thrilled our partners and the industry voted to award American Financial and the Automotive Training Academy with seven Dealers’ Choice Awards, including a platinum award for our Online Training,” said John Laudenslager, president of Assurant Global Automotive. “This is a team effort and demonstrates the focus and dedication our team takes in servicing our partners with best-in-class training and development to help them achieve their goals.”
NCM Associates won the second place award after finishing third and second in 2020 and 2019, respectively. DealerStrong has also earned a spot in the Special Finance Training category for three consecutive years, finishing third in 2021, second in 2020, and third in 2019.
For Compliance Training providers, three companies have continued to earn high marks with their dealer-partners year after year. American Financial & Automotive Services once again earned the first place Diamond ranking, for the third straight year. Close behind, Automotive Compliance Education (ACE) finished with second place Platinum, after being awarded Gold and Platinum, in 2020 and 2019, respectively.
“ACE is honored to be recognized with this Platinum award” said Executive Director Gil Van Over. “We strive to keep our content current and deliverable on demand.”
United Development Systems (a Brown & Brown company) won the Gold award, following Platinum and Gold wins the previous two years.
DealerPRO has regained the Diamond-title after moving down a spot in 2020, following four consecutive first place wins. American Financial earned Platinum in 2021, Diamond in 2020 and Gold in 2019. While Cardone Group received the Gold award the past two years, and Platinum in 2019.
Introduced in 2019, the Service Retention category has seen the same three companies represented in its winner’s circle. For two years running, Maximus Auto Group won the first place Diamond award. SAVY by EasyCare holds the Platinum spot for the second year, after winning Diamond in the category’s inaugural year. Helion Technologies has held steady in third place all three years.
With customer’s valuing their experience and a dealership’s culture more than ever, we couldn’t go another year without adding a category dedicated to customer retention. Taking home the inaugural award in the first time category, APC received the first place Diamond award. Close behind, Strategic DX secured the second place ranking.
“Strategic DX’s mission is to democratize the dealer-customer digital connection beyond the point-of-vehicle sale,” said Steven Apicella, the company’s CEO. “Ask yourself, should a customer have intuitive digital access to all of their purchased F&I products in one frictionless view where they can easily navigate claims service? What about organically giving them access to additional personalized F&I products after the time and funding constraints of the F&I menu presentation in that same digital engagement platform? Or a dealer rewards program in the same unified experience, to incentivize customer loyalty? How about digital messaging to transcend phone solicitations, junk mail and random text messaging? Think digital lifecycle if relevant customer retention and experience is in your business plan.”
Maximus Auto Group was awarded third place Gold honors in the newly added category.
F&I Products received special attention this year, as dealership voters recognized four winners in the category. Coming in first place for the fifth year running, is RoadVantage. In second place, National Auto Care was awarded Platinum for the fourth consecutive year, taking home Gold in both 2017 and 2016.
“It is such an honor to be chosen once again by dealers nationwide,” said Tony Wanderon, CEO of National Auto Care. “It shows that not only is National Auto Care being recognized but that each and every one of our agents are, as well. We could not be happier with our sixth consecutive year of innovation.”
Tied for third place, CNA National and ECP Inc. earned Gold honors in the F&I Products category.
New for 2021, the Appearance Protection category received so many votes, the decision was made to break them down by Chemical Protection products and Dent & Ding protection products.
For the Chemical Appearance Protection products category, ECP Inc. took home the first place Diamond award. Portfolio received second place Platinum; and CalTex Protective Coatings was honored with third place Gold.
“CalTex is committed to superior customer experiences, for our dealer partners and their customers. In addition to in-house development, testing, manufacturing of 40-plus vehicle care products in our US facility, we create custom blends and offer private labeling and customized bundles,” Rande Hawkinson, president and COO stated. “We are so grateful to the recognition we have received from our dealer partners. As the largest manufacturer and provider of Automotive Appearance Protection in the U.S, we are very proud of our capabilities and the level of customer service we provide,” Hawkinson added. “Winning the Gold Award for Appearance Protection (Chemical) is cause to celebrate our achievements and thank our partners for their support.”
In the Dent and Ding Appearance Protection Category, two winners took home inaugural awards: DentZone by Nobilis received the Diamond award and DentWizard finished in a close second with the Platinum award.
CNA National continues to hold an impeccable Diamond-winning streak, with 10 consecutive years of first place wins.
“We are honored to once again be named the number-one VSC provider by dealerships,” said Joe Becker, president and CEO of CNA National. “Adding a win in F&I Products to our list of accolades is a real victory, in addition to our 13 reinsurance and 17 VSC awards. All of this together goes a long way to demonstrate that dealers trust this company to deliver value and consistency for their customers.”
AUL Corp. also maintains an impressive track record in the category, with four consecutive second place wins, following four back-to-back Gold wins.
“We are extremely grateful to be honored once again by our dealer partners. They are the ones on the ground engaging customers and generating the vehicle sales, and to have done so during one of the industry’s most trying years, just speaks volumes to their ingenuity and commitment,” said Jimmy Atkinson, president and CEO of AUL. “Appropriately, we consider them part of the AUL family and do everything we can to ensure they have all of the tools they need to make their jobs easier. Their hard work has been instrumental to our record-setting growth into a leading full-service F&I provider.”
Taking home third place Gold, GSFSGroup holds steady for three years running in the category’s third place spot.
SERVICE CONTRACT REINSURANCE
Portfolio was awarded the first-place Diamond in the Service Contract Reinsurance category, following a second place win in 2020 and back-to-back Diamond wins in both 2018 and 2019.
“To win the Diamond award in six of the past eight years tells us we and our agents are doing something right,” said Brent Griggs, president and CEO of Portfolio. “Portfolio has never wavered from our commitment to the principle of 100% dealer ownership, and our program is backed by products, reporting and support we would hold up against any of our worthy competitors.”
Following with the Platinum award, CNA National has retained the second place position for three of the past four years, receiving Diamond in 2020. In third place, iA American, formerly SouthwestRe, has earned the Gold award five years running.
DEALER OWNED WARRANTY COMPANIES
A new category for 2021 and dedicated to Dealer Owned Warranty Companies, DOWC is the inaugural Diamond winner.
“We are so grateful to our dealers for their partnership and trust. Helping them stay resilient through the challenges brought on by the pandemic and its aftermath has been a humbling and incredibly rewarding experience,” said Michael LaMotta, DOWC’s CEO. “We have always had faith that our approach to dealer-owned structures, with a true focus on compliance and real access to cash, is a game-changer for the industry, and we’re so proud to achieve this recognition as we continue to grow and thrive.”
Protective Asset Protection was awarded second place Platinum and RoadVantage closes out the first year with the Gold award.
F&I DESKING SOFTWARE
For F&I Desking Software, Dealertrack secured its 14th win in the category, with first place Diamond for 2021. A close second, Reynolds & Reynolds earned second- place and also owns an impressive record of 12 wins in the category since it was introduced in 2005. With third place Gold, CDK Global continues its winning streak after receiving Platinum in 2020 and Gold in both 2019 and 2018.
StoneEagle, which has finished in the top-three each year since the category was added in 2016, came out on top this year with a first place award. Impact Group follows with back-to-back Platinum awards, and Axiom secured the third place Gold spot.
“The backbone of our success is the pride and commitment that our team puts forth daily in support of our dealers,” said Garrett Thorpe, Impact Group’s COO. “It’s truly gratifying that our users have organically taken the time to recognize us in return. Another Platinum win for F&I Technology this year means the world to us.”
Having been awarded a spot every year since 2012, ProMax earned consecutive first place recognitions following a third place win in 2019.
“It’s such an honor to once again receive these awards, and we truly appreciate our dealers taking the time to vote for us,” said Shane Born, ProMax COO. “At ProMax we strive to be a partner who helps dealers sell more cars through innovative yet easy-to-use software, industry experience, and best-in-class customer service.”
Reynolds & Reynolds received an award in the category for the sixth time, taking home second place Platinum for 2021, following a Gold win in 2020 and Diamond in 2019. ELead1One earned third place honors in the CRM category.
Dealertrack earned first place Diamond in the DMS category for the second consecutive year, and the company has placed in the top three every year since 2007. Not far behind, Reynolds and Reynolds earned Platinum, following a Gold win in 2020 and Diamond honors in both 2019 and 2018. Finishing up the CRM ranking, CDK Global was awarded third place, winning Platinum in 2020.
Since its introduction in 2016, the Data Mining category has recognized only five companies as winners in it’s six years. For 2021, a new winner joined this elite group as the first place Diamond honoree: DealerWizard by iA American Warranty Group.
“Our team is honored to be the recipient of the Diamond award for data mining. This award is a direct validation of our Dealer Wizard technology, and an acknowledgement of the extraordinary service we have delivered to our clients over the past decade,” said Todd Stewart, senior VP for Dealer Wizard, iA American’s equity-mining solution. “I am extremely proud of our team, and grateful for the long-term support of our franchised dealer clients.”
ELead1One was awarded second place Platinum, after finishing first in 2020 and second in 2019. Dominion Dealer Solutions remains in the data mining competition, receiving the Gold award in 2021, Platinum in 2020, and Diamond in 2019.
New for 2021, the Reporting Systems category was added to recognize the partners that keep dealership data in check. Taking home first-place Diamond, StoneEagle came out on top. In second place, we have AutoMate and Maxim- Trak was awarded third place honors.
Manheim continues its legacy with 16 years of wins in the Online Auction category, finishing first in 2021, third in 2020, and second in 2019. Ally Smart- Auction also takes its honors very seriously and has earned an award every year since the category’s inception in 2005, taking home second place Platinum for 2021, followed close behind by eBay Motors in third.
Manheim regained its first-place honors after moving into second place for 2020 after earning Diamond awards for seven straight years prior. ADESA also remains a champion in the Traditional Auction category, receiving second place Platinum following a Diamond win in 2020 and a total of 14 awards in the category. In third place, America’s Auto Auction closes out the category, having held the placement for four years running.
PRIME CAPTIVE FINANCE COMPANY
Honda Financial stole the show in the Prime Captive Finance Company category, securing first place honors. GM Financial moved into second place, after winning Diamond every year since 2015. Taking home third place Gold, is Toyota Financial Services.
PRIME NON-CAPTIVE FINANCE COMPANY
In its 17 years, the Prime Non-Captive Finance Company category has shined the spotlight on 20 finance companies. For 2021, Ally reigned supreme as first place winner for its seventh consecutive year. Wells Fargo was honored with second place Platinum, its 12th award in the category since 2006. Chase earned the third place Gold award.
SUBPRIME FINANCE COMPANY
In the Subprime Finance Company category, Regional Acceptance was awarded top honors, moving up from third-place last year after previously winning in the category every year from 2009 until 2018. Capital One earned the Platinum- award and has been recognized in the category every year since 2011. For the third year running, Credit Acceptance was recognized in third-place.
US Equity Advantage took home the Diamond award for Biweekly Payments in this year’s program, remaining in the winner’s circle every year since the category’s debut.
“Earning the top Diamond award for seven consecutive years validates the tremendous asset we provide to dealerships in a highly competitive marketplace,” said AutoPayPlus CEO Robert M. Steenbergh. “Our dealer partners value the full customer lifecycle of benefits that our AutoPayPlus service delivers, from helping car buyers better afford their loan payment and purchase the F&I products they need to shortening their trade cycle and reducing negative equity.”
PriorityPay Plus moved into second place after winning Gold in 2020. SMART Payment Plan has also been honored in the category every year since it was introduced in 2015, earning third place for 2021.
For the first time this year, Line\5 moved into the first place ranking after finishing second for three consecutive years. PayLink was honored with second place Platinum, following a first and then third place win in 2020 and 2019, respectively. “PayLink Direct is proud to be included in the DCA 2021 awards and is honored to be recognized for our dealer program for the 4th year in a row. We credit our success to our business acumen, our commitment to continual quality improvement and technological innovation, our PayLink team that strives for excellence in all that we do, and our clients — dealers, agents, and admins alike — that have chosen PayLink to be their preferred finance partner,” said Brenda, Kereakes, vice president of national sales at PayLink. “Thank you to all who voted for PayLink Direct and being a part of our continued success.”
Universal Lenders rounds out the F&I Financing winner’s stand with third place Gold for the second consecutive year, having finished first in 2019 and third in 2018.
Our final new category for 2021, is Video Messaging, a tactic that took on new life when stay at home orders dominated businesses and consumers alike. In first place, CoVideo was recognized for its superior service, followed by Digital Air Strike earning second place Platinum and truvideo coming in third.