“We’re doing everything we can to help them keep their trucks,” said Pete Piccolo, the company’s vice president of E-Business. “With used values as low as they are, the last thing we want to do is take trucks back.”
Associates has already been helping lenders with special programs that allow them to skip payments so they can make it through times when cash is tight. The company plans additional assistance during the early part of next year, when truck license fees are due and operators will be hit with big bills on top of their normal operating costs.
Associates finances or leases around 30,000 Class 8 trucks annually. Its total truck finance portfolio is valued in excess of $12 billion. The company says its pending merger with Citigroup will provide broader selection of financial products and services for truckers, both online and offline and it insists the trucking industry will remain a top priority.
At a press conference yesterday in Dallas, the company outlined its plans to use the Internet to cut lending costs. Truck buyers now have the option of obtaining financing from Associates through its web site at www.truckassociates.com and obtaining rates that are 0.5% to 4.0% lower than what they would get through traditional financing channels.
“Truck dealers have to accept that the F&I process is changing,” Piccolo said. “The margins in this business have gone down so much in past five years, we had to get more efficient at processing loans. Our customers were also asking us to go direct. They want financing to be available when they want, where they want.”
Piccolo says dealers will still play an important role in the processing and sale of finance packages and will be compensated for any role they play in the process. Associates also plans to introduce a new product in the first quarter of 2001 which will provide dealers with Internet-based tools to assist in the F&I process.
For now, dealers have little to fear. Online loan applications are averaging 300 a month, still a very small percentage of the over 14,000 applications the company garners monthly through dealers.