September 18, 2020

Captives helped support customers, sales

Automaker captives acted quickly in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic to assist their customers and dealership partners. Lenders granted payment deferrals and lease extensions on a mass scale for existing customers and fielded an influx of consumer calls and messages during a time of uncertainty.

Most of this work was done from employees’ homes, as captive lenders rapidly deployed remote work forces alongside many other industries.

For franchised dealerships, captive finance arms were invaluable in the first few weeks of the deadly U.S. outbreak. Many lenders lowered dealer floorplan rates and suspended curtailments. Lenders deployed aggressive incentive programs to entice new-vehicle sales at a crucial time for retailers.

Ford Motor Credit Co., GM Financial and Santander Consumer USA’s Chrysler Capital business led the industry in March with 84-month interest-free auto loans. This allowed their captives to steal market share from virtually every other lender and drive much-needed traffic to dealerships. Other captives quickly followed suit, to the relief of dealership partners nationwide.

Hyundai relaunched its Assurance job-loss protection program in March for new vehicles, offering to make up to six months of payments for customers who bought or leased over the following seven weeks through its captive financing arm.

Ford launched a similar program that allows customers to return vehicles within a year of purchase in the event of an unexpected job loss.

Serving customers and dealership partners rapidly was no easy task for large organizations that switched to virtual operations in a matter of days. Captive lenders navigated a confusing time largely separated from their offices.

Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. deployed 900 laptops and supporting technology so people could work from home, President Kevin Cullum told Automotive News.

“Our first objective was to ensure the continuity of the business through our employees,” he said. “We wanted all of the teams aligned, receiving a consistent and clear message and most importantly, to feel connected during this difficult time.”

Ford Credit was in various stages of small work-from-home pilots when the viral outbreak shut down office operations one country after another, according to company spokeswoman Margaret Mellott.

In a one-week period, Ford Credit transitioned more than 90 percent of its work force globally, she said in an email to Automotive News. This change included thousands of call center employees.

“Through high call volumes from customers and development of the support programs, our performance remained strong and we maintained high service levels for dealers and customers,” Mellott said.

Amid the pandemic, seasonal storm activity continued, and Ford’s insurance team ventured into the field when dealerships had damage. Ford Credit provided personal protective equipment for these employees and other on-site workers, Mellott said.

Lenders also were flooded with customer questions during this period and rapidly developed digital communication tools to handle the concerns.

Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. received more than 117,000 customer calls in a single week, almost three times the weekly average. Customers initiated 53,000 live chat sessions, 13 times the normal amount, Cullum said.

“Each area of the organization deployed every available resource to support our customer service needs,” he said.