Chrysler to get out of leasing business
Chrysler LLC said Friday its financial arm will get out of the auto leasing business by the end of the month because economic conditions have made leasing more expensive than buying, for both consumers and the company.
The move comes as Chrysler Financial is in the process of renewing a $30 billion credit line with banks amid a startling drop in values for leased trucks and sport utility vehicles that are coming back to automakers as leases end.
Chrysler Vice Chairman and President Jim Press said the company wants to allocate its limited resources to retail incentives and financing, which make up 80 percent of the market, instead of leasing, which is 20 percent of the U.S. market.
The move probably won't be followed by Chrysler's competitors, but other automakers are likely to raise prices for leased vehicles because of the added costs, said David Healy, an auto analyst with Burnham Securities.
"I think that the companies may de-emphasize leases by pricing them tougher," Healy said.
General Motors Corp. spokeswoman Susan Garontakos said she was not aware of any discussions at GM about ending its leasing business.
"We don't have any plans for that right now," she said, declining to comment further.
Ford Motor Co. spokesman said Bill Collins said the automaker doesn't publicly discuss its leasing forecast but its business plan "always includes a certain amount of leasing to support Ford sales."
Because banks lend money based on the risk, and the risk of leases sold as securities has increased, interest rates to borrow money for leases are higher than those for retail sales, said Tom Gilman, executive vice chairman of Chrysler Financial.
"The cost of that borrowing has increased dramatically," he said.
Press said the dramatic drop in truck and SUV values at the end of their leases also played a role in the company's decision.
"We really reached a point today in this environment where the advantages of leasing, the economic advantages of leasing, have really disappeared," Press said in a conference call Friday afternoon with reporters and industry analysts.
"When you have a certain amount of capital available, you're got to use it in a way that's smart and best for the customers and the company," he said.
Press said dealers will still be able to offer leases through independent sources, but not Chrysler Financial.
Chrysler said it will sweeten incentives on the retail side to make up for any lost lease business. The company on Friday announced that it will expand zero percent financing for 72 months on vehicles from Ram pickup trucks to the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Commander and other SUVs. The offers will run through the end of the month.
The company also plans to enhance its incentives during the next 60 days in an effort to capture more of the retail market, Press said.
Steven Landry, executive vice president of North American sales, said the new incentives will in many cases reduce monthly payments so they are close to or the same as lease payments.
"They really look for the monthly payment when they go to the dealership," he said.
Chrysler's announcement comes a day after Ford's credit arm took a $2.1 billion charge because of the drop in the residual value of leased vehicles, mainly trucks and SUVs.
Press said Chrysler would also have to take a similar write-down, but "it hasn't been a major problem for us at this point in time."
Chrysler, which is 80.1 percent owned by Cerberus Capital Management LP, is a private company and unlike Ford, does not have to report such losses publicly.
Healy said Chrysler Financial probably is getting out of the lease business to satisfy lenders as it renews its credit line.
"There's a lot less risk in standard transactions than there is in leasing these days," he said.
Midsize SUVs, on average, lost 28.7 percent of their value, from $15,577 in March 2005 to $11,096 at the end of June, according to wholesale auction data from the National Automobile Dealers Association. The figures are adjusted for variations in vehicle mileage.
Press also said Chrysler's gasoline subsidy incentive, which keeps the price for customers at $2.99 per gallon for three years, will end this month. The deal is based on 12,000 miles of driving per year and the vehicle's government fuel economy rating.
AP Business Writer Dan Strumpf in New York contributed to this report.
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