50 Colo. CUs Partner With 'Dealership' For Lending

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Fifty credit unions in this state have partnered with an auto "dealership" that seeks to serve members uncomfortable with the pressures of car buying.

Steve Bentley, founder and CEO of Automotive Avenues Inc., said his company offers a truly different way of car buying, and it only is available to members of 50 Colorado credit unions that are affiliated with AAI.

"Automotive Avenues is my first child with the credit union industry," said Bentley, who also serves as chairman of The Aimbridge Group, AAI's parent company. "It is built around the concept of working exclusively with credit unions to provide an automobile distribution network. It helps credit unions build their auto loan portfolios, and it offers the credit unions a value-added feature."

Bill Green, AAI's president and general manager, said Automotive Avenues is an "alternative to the traditional franchise dealer system."

"People hate going to a car dealership. They want to go somewhere they can trust," said Green. "We provide a different type of service."

According to Green, when a member contacts Automotive Avenues, the first step is a "needs analysis" to determine what kind of vehicle best suits the person's lifestyle and budget. Both purchase and lease options are explored, and because the service works with many car companies, no one manufacturer gets preference, he said.

"If someone comes to us who is not a member of a credit union, we refer him or her to one based on where he or she has membership eligibility," he said. "We truly are integrated with credit unions, and help them help themselves."

Once a buyer has an idea of which make and model he or she wants, AAI offers several choices for test-drives. AAI can arrange a visit to an affiliated dealership, or the vehicle can be delivered to Automotive Avenues' location.

AAI has a list of 63 new and used car dealers in Colorado, plus four out-of-state dealers. Through another division of The Aimbridge Group-Aimbridge Indirect Lending-it has access to more than 300 dealerships nationally. In addition, the company maintains an inventory of used cars.

When Bentley founded Automotive Avenues in 1987 it was partnered with one credit union-The Credit Union of Denver-which also is based in the Denver suburb of Lakewood. Initially, AAI leased new vehicles, then it expanded to leasing used cars and finally to brokering.

"Legally, we are a 'dealership,'" explained Bentley.

"Credit unions provide services to their members at a fair price. For a credit union to refer its members to somebody is a big statement," he said. "The credit union industry is large in number, small in asset size, but it has a tremendous presence. It also has loyalty."

Automotive Avenues generates $90 million a year in revenue, which places it roughly 340th among dealerships in the United States, Green said.

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