With gas prices continuing to climb, members who got caught in thebig truck mania years ago are probably regretting their purchasesas they shell out hundreds of dollars for fuel each week.

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The $465 million Greater NevadaCredit Union had that segment of the population in mind when itlaunched a marketing campaign that increased its direct auto loanvolume by 30% over four months,

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The effort was such a success that the Carson City, Nev.-basedcooperative took home two Gold ADDY awards at an AmericanAdvertising Federation ceremony in Reno.

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Dubbed the “Wrong Size Car” campaign, Greater Nevada CU tappedReno-based firm Ding Communications to create a multimediaadvertising venture that included two 15-second televisioncommercials and a new, loan-specific website landing page.

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Like many credit unions, Greater Nevada CU grappled withfinancial concerns brought on by the downturn, said Ronald Willard,vice president of marketing. A boost in its auto lending operationsclearly has helped the bottom line. From September 2009 to February2010, direct vehicle loans totaled $3 million, according to MarcusWertz, consumer lending manager. That figure increased to $5million in new loans between September 2010 and February 2011. Inall, the CU has $24 million in direct used vehicle loans.

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“We would not have been successful had it not been for theleadership of our executive team,” Willard said. “They supported afresh approach to what we had been doing in the past. All of thechanges–they took a lot of moxie.”

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Willard said another reason why the campaign propelled vehiclelending was the October implementation of a new, centralizedlending process. The credit union moved away from branchrepresentatives trying to juggle multiple checking, savings andvehicle sales to loans captured at a website or via a phone call.Members receive a shorter application, which speeds the process andenables Wertz and his team to quickly follow up on every request,ultimately resulting in more booked loans.

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“We're still streamlining our processes, but we're seeing a 65%increase in the same months over previous years,” Wertz said.“Members feel confident that they are getting a great deal and arebeing treated fairly. The sky's the limit.”

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Credit unions are in a four-year vehicle lending slump. Usedvehicle increased 4.1% in 2010, a $4.1 billion gain, according toCUNA Mutual Group's February “Credit Union Trends Report.”Meanwhile, the new vehicle loan portfolio declined $1.1 billion inDecember, with the total 2010 reduction coming in at $12.6 billionor 16.4%.

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Greater Nevada CU is one of many in the industry keeping itsfocus on used car lending. Willard said competing with new dealerpricing is challenging given the incentives offered to carshoppers. The campaign revealed that there is an eight-to-one ratioof used to new cars.

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“Really, it's our bread and butter–the used cars,” Willardsaid.

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The turbulence occurring in and outside of the credit union.industry was a factor in Greater Nevada's decision to focus ondirect lending versus indirect lending.  “We determinedthat indirect lending was not the best strategy for us during thisperiod,” Willard said.

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