January 19, 2021

COVID-19 dominates most-clicked 2020 stories

The coronavirus dominated the news cycle this year, roiling the U.S. auto industry and driving millions of Americans out of offices and into their homes.

Businesses big and small — including automotive retailers, suppliers and manufacturers — laid off thousands of workers as customer traffic dried up and manufacturing operations came to a temporary halt.

These disruptions galvanized the auto retail industry, prompting innovation, collaboration and widespread digital adoption, financial assistance and technical support.

Here were the top F&I stories of 2020:

GM launches broad plan to combat coronavirus impact: General Motors in March forged a comprehensive plan to mitigate business losses caused by the pandemic. The program included aggressive incentives for new-vehicles, 0 percent interest, 84-month loans and deferred payments of up to 120 days to customers in top credit tiers and free OnStar crisis-assist services for all current GM vehicle owners.

Santander agrees to $550M settlement over subprime loans: Santander Consumer USA Holdings agreed in May to recalibrate its underwriting practices as part of a $550 million settlement with 33 states and the District of Columbia over subprime auto loans. The states allege the subprime lender violated consumer protection laws by extending auto loans to customers who were unable to repay them.

Captive lenders, banks to provide payment relief during crisis: Ford Motor Credit Co., Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. and Toyota Financial Services were among the automakers offering flexible payment and repayment programs this spring, with larger lenders Wells Fargo Auto and Ally Financial following suit. Aggressive incentives, forbearance programs and lease extensions were all steps undertaken by lenders to generate sales and protect customers.

States: Consumers must be able to return leased vehicles during outbreak: Shelter-in-place orders and conflicting accounts on what elements of dealership operations were considered essential prompted confusion over how to handle consumer leases set to expire. A group of state attorneys general, led by California’s Xavier Becerra, believed customers were prevented from returning off-lease vehicles by franchised dealerships, and urged automakers in May to curb “unlawful and predatory” practices regarding the timely return of those vehicles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FICO’s new scoring model likely widens gap between borrowers: An update to Fair Isaac Corp.’s widely used credit scoring system is expected to expand the gap between the number of borrowers with sterling credit and those with spotty records. Though FICO said in February the changes will be modest for most consumers, it could mean added pressure on subprime borrowers while customers with FICO scores above 680 will likely see a boost in scores.

Record-high subprime auto delinquencies on horizon, Cox says: Prior to the pandemic’s toll on the subprime market, Cox Automotive economists anticipated that record-high delinquency rates seen in November and December 2019 would continue into January and February this year. Forbearance programs and a temporary moratorium on repossessions during the pandemic likely kept delinquencies from climbing this year.

December auto applications linked to new fraud wave: Fraud detection specialist Point Predictive discovered last year more than $5.5 million in auto loan applications were linked to a new fraud wave, mostly in Southern California, with borrowers using synthetic identities by manipulating Social Security numbers.

Ally Q1 hard-hit from COVID-19; 25% of auto customers seek forbearance: One of the largest U.S. auto lenders, Ally Financial Inc., posted a net loss in the first quarter of 2020 due to a worsening economy and measures the lender took to mitigate credit losses. One-quarter of the lender’s auto customers requested payment relief, the majority of which had never been delinquent before, the Detroit lender said in April.

GM Financial to pilot refinancing app: GM Financial revealed plans in March to pilot a direct-to-consumer refinancing mobile app designed to attract customers who obtained financing with other lenders. The tool, theoretically, could target non-GM purchasing customers and flip the borrower into a GM loan or lease when they’re in the market for a new vehicle.

Subprime car lender faces tough week with lending lawsuit, stock swoon: In the span of a few days, suburban Detroit subprime auto lender Credit Acceptance Corp. saw its stock price fall off a cliff, became subject to a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general of Massachusetts and draw the ire of a notorious activist short-seller who believed the lender is vastly overvalued and has unscrupulous business practices.