My first senior management job was CIO for the startup BMW Finance. This was an education in why auto makers need captive finance. I fondly recall Vic Doolan wrapping himself in the Bavarian flag (figuratively) and demanding we raise our residuals on the X5.
Captive finance converts the ups and downs of auto retail into a steady stream of finance payments. This creates the illusion that the finance arm is somehow a better business, and managers lose sight of the special relationship. The finance arm also develops a better-looking balance sheet. Without proper discipline, the finance arm will wander off and start writing mortgages. Meanwhile, the parent company turns to deals with banks. Sound familiar?
This is the background against which I observed the recent travails of GMAC. I had the privilege of working at GMAC in autumn 2008, when things started to go bad.
“The stability that Ford Credit has provided us through this turn has been huge,” said dealer Skip Davenport “It’s so important for the manufacturer to have a captive finance arm.”
Ford Credit, by contrast, stepped into the breach and did exactly what a captive lender should do. They supported their dealers, of course, with wholesale and retail finance – but they did some non-obvious things, too. They provided consulting support, to help dealers review their finances, and they helped with advertising. They also pulled back on lending for non-Ford vehicles.
Ford dealers observed that financing brought in customers new to the brand, which means new customers – and potentially repeat customers – for both entities. Now, that’s teamwork.