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RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Auto Expert, an online purchase and finance car-buying service offered to the members of four California-based CUs through RCUSO, the wholly-owned credit union service organization of Riverside County’s Credit Union has expanded beyond the West Coast and is now available to the more than 40,000 members of First Resource FCU in St. Joseph, Mich. In addition to First Resource FCU and RCCU, the other three participating California credit unions in Auto Expert are Riverside Campus FCU, Courts and Records FCU in Pasadena, and First Financial FCU in West Covina. Auto Expert Vice President Sam Worthington said the CUSO is also in the process of talking with an additional 10-12 East coast CUs and some in the Midwest about Auto Expert. Worthington says Auto Expert is like “having a personal shopper” as well as a “personal negotiator,” and that are two of the features that makes the service so attractive to credit unions. The Auto Expert advisors who take the members’ requests not only find the member the exact car they specify, but they also do all the “horse trading” and negotiating that is part of making the deal. That means the member never has to get involved in haggling with the dealer. What’s more, in a special promotion being offered by RCCU, any member who purchases and finances an auto loan through Auto Expert does not have to make a loan payment for the first 90 days. The numbers speak for themselves, says Worthington: in its first year of business – 2000 – Auto Expert facilitated the sale and financing of 1,223 vehicles. Last year, that figure went up to 1,500 cars, and as of this September, it already handled the sale and financing of 1,110 cars. The ratio of new to used cars purchased by members through Auto Expert has been 40% to 60%. RCUSO admits that Auto Expert works best for the member who knows which car they want to buy and can specify the make, model and features they’re interested in. Worthington says, “We encourage members to go to the dealership, kick the tires and slam the doors of the vehicle they’re interested in and test drive it so when they use Auto Expert they know the vehicle they want to buy.” RCUSO uses the principles of fleet buying to get the best prices for members. New vehicles are purchased directly from the fleet departments of auto dealerships, and used vehicles are acquired at dealer auctions. Worthington said Auto Expert is the only car buying service that is allowed to take members on to the auction grounds so they have the opportunity to see what’s available. Once the member makes their selection, they give the Auto Expert advisor their bid, and the advisor later returns to the auction and bids against other dealers on the member’s behalf. Since Auto Expert buys so many cars from participating dealers, the CUSO is able to obtain volume discounts and pass those on to members. Auto Expert currently does business with 120 dealerships nationwide including 50 in Southern California. Members who need financing for their auto purchased are referred back to their credit union to work out the loan details. Worthington says about 98% of loans that go through Auto Expert remain with the credit unions. When the purchase of the vehicle is completed; the member picks up the car when it’s delivered to the credit union. For a finishing touch, the Auto Expert staff puts a big red bow on the roof or hood of the car and takes a picture of the member with their new vehicle. RCUSO said Auto Expert is growing in popularity because people just don’t like going to the auto dealerships and having to deal with the salespeople face-to-face. With the advent of the Internet, and with people being so pressed for time, Auto Expert has become a great alternative to the traditional dealer-lot, high-pressure car buying experience, the CUSO said. -

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