Aiming to keep up with rapid consolidation in the car dealer industry, BankAmerica Corp. said it has combined its four auto financing units into a single national subsidiary.
The bank's regional units were combined into a group called National Dealer Corporate Services, based in Pleasant Hill, Calif.
The subsidiary offers financing for car purchases from factories, said Leonard A. Morgan, the BankAmerica executive vice president who heads the new unit. "This will create consistency in our markets throughout the country," he said.
By establishing uniform lending and deposit systems, the move will significantly cut costs, Mr. Morgan said. However, he declined to estimate the size of the saving. "We're still figuring out how the different units accounted for everything," he said.
Analysts praised the consolidation, saying it exemplifies the industry's need to maintain profitability in lending operations.
"By getting their costs down this way, BofA, like other banks, is looking for areas to maximize spreads," said Brian L. Eisenbarth, an analyst at Collins & Co., Larkspur, Calif. "Turning attention to the loan end of the business is really important right now with the investment part of banks' operations looking pretty dismal."
Auto lending is a substantial business for BankAmerica. The unit, which will continue to operate lending offices in nine major cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago, has about $1.4 billion of loans outstanding.
Mr. Morgan said Bank of America intends to grow the business aggressively.
The bank also offers cash management, real estate, and capital markets services to auto dealers. In addition, through offices in Seattle and Las Vegas, BankAmerica offers consumer loans and leasing through car dealers. That portfolio has $7.1 billion of loans outstanding, the company said.
The number of automobile dealerships has been declining steadily for years. Over the last 10 years, the total declined 10%, to 22,700, at yearend 1997, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. Some predict the number will shrink even further-to 16,000 dealerships by yearend 2000.
"There has been a pretty frantic acquisition and consolidation pace in this industry," said J. Peter Kitzmiller, the trade group's assistant director of regulatory affairs. Large regional firms that have been snapping up individual dealerships will continue to seek ways to reduce costs, including the amount they spend on interest and loan fees, Mr. Kitzmiller predicted.
Because BankAmerica goes toe-to-toe with giant auto manufacturers that also offer credit to car retailers, it is crucial that the bank streamline its operations to remain competitive, he said.