When Navy Federal Credit Union launched its auto buying program, it was important to have a component that would arm members with information that would help them avoid getting into upside-down deals or paying for unnecessary services.
The $44 billion credit union announced the debut of its new program in early February after a soft launch Dec. 1. Features of the new program include low, pre-arranged pricing on or below invoice, auto buying specialists that offer members assistance throughout the buying process, and Navy Federal financing education and dealers contractually committed to not flipping members to other auto finance services, according to the Vienna, Va.-based credit union. The program is free to members.
Through a partnership with Affinity Auto Group LLC, Navy Federal works with more than 2,200 dealerships nationwide.
Members overseas can call the toll-free number and AAG can provide or secure a car for them domestically if they are returning from an overseas tour
, said Tony Gallardy, vice president, consumer/credit card lending.
Since its launch, the program has started to pick up some steam, Gallardy noted. So far, 227 members have used it. Because of vehicle choice, Navy Federal pricing and manufacturer rebates, the amount of money members have saved varies.
What prompted Navy Federal to roll out the auto buying program was the cooperative offering some of the best pricing in the market, Gallardy said. While the credit union has had some versions of the program in the past, the last one was managed internally and became difficult to update given the number of dealerships that had closed as result of the recession. Around the middle of 2010, discussions started about what could be added to serve members even more.
"We do a lot of service with young members who live around bases. They buy from dealers in the area and sometimes, they just don't get the best deals. Some are upside- down on deals. We wanted to put an education component in. Education is the key."
That knowledge is aided by auto buying specialists who are trained by AAG on Navy Federal's products and pricing. The search starts on the credit union's website where a member clicks on a link to find a new or used vehicle. After a dealership is located within a 25-mile radius of where the member lives, an appointment with the auto buying specialist is arranged for an on-site visit. Gallardy said Navy Federal establishes the pricing but members can negotiate further if they choose. AAG will call the member after the dealer meeting to get feedback on how it went.
One of things AAG will ask is if anyone tried to sell other auto finance services to the members, which is not allowed under AAG's program rules.
"We're not an indirect lender. Dealers have a host of indirect lenders they work with and they get a better spread if they push other services," Gallardy said.
On the credit union's website, the Navy Federal member price is quoted once a specific vehicle is selected. The invoice price, which appears on the invoice that the manufacturer sends to the dealer when it receives the vehicle from the factory, is also listed.
Some manufacturers pay dealers holdback for the sale of vehicles the manufacturer has delivered to them, according to Navy Federal. The funds are called holdback because it is money that the manufacturer holds for the dealer and pays back every few months. The amounts are generally 1% to 3% of the manufacturer's suggested retail price or invoice price. The credit union said holdback is one of the factors it considers in determining the value of its established program price.
Gallardy said Navy Federal originated $5.5 billion in consumer loans in 2010, an 11% increase over 2009. The strain from the recession prompted many to start buying more used autos, he noticed. Hundreds of dealerships nationwide closed, unable to weather the economic storm. Still, the credit union maintained its top 20 ranking in the used car market among financial institutions including among firms such as Toyota Financial, according to Experian data cited by Gallardy. That distinction may have much to do with Navy Federal not charging more than 18% on its auto loans.
"With the way the economy has been, there's a lot of pent-up demand. We think the car market will rebound this year," Gallardy said. "We're looking forward to doing considerably more this year. Dealers are looking to do more."
Looking ahead, talks are under way to add motorcycles and recreational vehicles to the search lineup. Gallardy said Navy Federal is also moving forward with its plan to offer auto loans via mobile phones in 2012.