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RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. – Credit unions’ first-ever booth at the National Automobile Dealer Association Convention and Exposition turned out to be more than just an opportunity to demonstrate the collective indirect lending and aggregated power of credit unions. It also gave CU representatives who attended the event an “eye-opening experience” and the chance to network with some of the big players in the auto industry including some of their lending competitors. Overall, Tony Boutelle, president/CEO of Credit Union Direct Lending, gave the event high marks and considered the first-time effort of a group of credit unions to participate in the auto industry’s premier annual convention “a success.” “It was overwhelming. This event successfully raised the visibility of the credit unions within the auto industry,” said Boutelle. CUDL developed the 30 feet X 50 feet America’s Credit Unions booth working with Callahan and Associates and representatives from some of the leading auto lending CUs in the U.S. The four-day event held Jan. 31-Feb. 3 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, drew nearly 30,000 attendees, an estimated 41% of whom were dealer principles. One of the highlights of the event was a promotion raffle drawing held by the credit unions for a 2004 Harley Davidson Fat BoyT. Larry Tucker of Petersburg Ford/Chrysler was the lucky winner who drove away with the motorcycle. “Credit unions account for a significant portion of the auto lending market, and having a visible presence among the captives, banks and sub-prime financing organizations was essential for educating and building stronger relationships with dealers,” Boutelle said. Boutelle explained that credit unions “tend to stay together. They know a lot about each other, but not necessarily about a lot of the industries they’re related to and do business in. So this convention was eye opening for a lot of them. You quickly realized credit unions are just one small player in the whole auto industry and the huge competitors like captives and banks make it that much more important for credit unions to be involved in auto lending. Credit unions’ presence at this show allowed them to aggregate their value to the dealers.” Chip Filson, president/CEO of Callahan & Associates said the NADA Convention and Exposition “was larger than just the America’s Credit Unions booth, it was an effort to present the credit union movement in the context of the premier auto dealer conference in the country.” There were a total of 562 booths – the America’s Credit Unions booth was in front of one of the entrances to the exhibition hall – but Filson said just knowing the number of booths that were there “doesn’t capture the size of the exhibition hall.” Some displayers’ booths, he said, were the size of basketball courts, and some manufacturers had some of their cars in their booth area. But Filson emphasized that the America’s Credit Unions booth “wasn’t swallowed up. It was a very open booth and an open area.” He explained that, “Credit unions had the opportunity to become immersed in the auto marketplace in a way that their normal work responsibilities don’t allow them. It was a way for them to hear and see the world the way it’s perceived by auto dealers, the people whose business the credit unions are after.” Fifty credit unions from 23 states attended the conference – CUDL and non-CUDL members were invited to attend – and at any time, there were generally 15-20 CU people such as CEOs or lending officers, manning the booth. It wasn’t just manufacturers’ representatives and dealers who stopped by the booth, a lot of bank and captive financing company representatives also came by. What was their reaction to what they saw? Boutelle overheard one of them remark, “This is not a good thing,” referring to the aggregate lending power message credit unions were conveying. “One of the biggest fears that captives and banks have is credit unions working together because they know how strong a competitive force credit unions can be when that happens,” said Boutelle. As for dealers’ reactions to the booth, Boutelle said they were “in general very complimentary.” He added that, “There’s been a mutual mistrust between credit unions and dealers, but the booth sent a message to the dealers that credit unions want to partner with them and work together in a mutually beneficial relationship.” That, in fact, was the essence of the mission statement of the America’s Credit Unions booth: “.we are dedicated to developing strong partnerships with automobile dealers.We’re representing more than 80 million auto buying credit union members nationwide.” Filson said he also had the chance to speak with dealers at the show, and they were all very positive about their experiences with credit unions. “Dealers and credit unions are in the same situation. There has to be a satisfied member and dealer customer. If either isn’t happy, both the credit union and dealer lose,” he said. Filson was also impressed with how similar the marketing requirements of dealers and credit unions are. “Their mutual objective is to get their message out to the community, and there are also a lot of parallels in their businesses. Both, for example, are going through consolidation,” he said. “Credit unions have shown that collectively they can make an impact with auto lending. Credit unions in their local market can be very effective, but when they go to national markets, they’re not competitive. A consolidated credit union industry stance that says to dealers `we want to partner with you’ will have long lasting effects,” said Filson. -

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