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ARLINGTON, Va. — A sluggish economy is an ideal time for credit unions to increase their automobile loan portfolios by adapting aggressive but sensible practices, CUDL President/CEO Tony Boutelle said at a Metropolitan Area Credit Union Management Association meeting here.“Auto sales will be the worst in the industry’s history this year,” he said. “But our sales for the first three months of 2009 are 16% higher than last year for the same period.” He noted that in February, 25% of all auto loans went to credit unions, compared to 15% in February 2008.Boutelle, whose Ontario, Calif.-based CUSO is a packager of lending products, added that automobile dealers are starving for lenders and credit unions will find many dealers eager to make deals. There are approximately 50,000 independent automobile dealers and 19,700 dealers affiliated with a specific car company.He also said that credit unions can “mitigate a lot of risks” from lending by thorough due diligence. But he noted that some steps, such as getting information on the financial health of auto dealers once a year, don’t necessarily give credit unions the full picture because it’s just a snapshot of conditions. He noted, however, that automobile dealers might be reluctant to provide more frequent financials.Boutelle said the goal of credit unions should be to get in the top three lenders for the dealers in the area that they serve. It is easier for smaller credit unions to get attention from dealers because “they are more engaged and eager to work with you.”He answered questions posed by Credit Union Times Editor-in-Chief Sarah Snell Cooke.–cmarx@cutimes.com

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