Is there a change afoot in the RV finance arena that perhaps reflects an overall prospect for improvement in the U.S. economy and the recreational vehicle marketplace?
That’s hard to say. Based solely on the fact that Bank of America Dealer Financial Services and GE Commercial Distribution Finance — the two big dogs in RV finance — are talking to the press lately after months of silence during the depths of the recession, it’s certainly beginning to look that way.
Ellsworth “Ellie” Clarke, president of B of A’s Dealer Financial Services, last week provided an overview of B of A’s programs and the RV market in an interview with Jeff Kurowski, director of industry relations for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), that was posted on RVBUSINESS.com. And only yesterday (July 1), GE Commercial Distribution Finance’s Pete K. Lannon, managing director and president of GE Capital’s Motorsports and RV Group, addressed modifications to GE curtailment policies in a wide-ranging interview with RV Business.
Lannon also fielded questions on an array of other related topics, the crux of which is as follows:
What can you tell us about finance rates in general? We’re told that they spiked for GE in March across the board – including both the RV and marine sectors. Do you anticipate any sort of an easing of interest rates?
There are a lot of factors that go into interest rates. Part of it is the macro-economic environment, the general cost of funds and what it takes to raise funds in the marketplace. Another component is our cost of operations, and then there’s a risk component. So, we’re attuned to all of these items, and we would make rate adjustments in accordance with what they are telling us.
The Small Business Administration is beginning to provide floorplan financing for RV retailers. Has this played into any of GE’s decision, announced yesterday, to moderate its curtailment interest rates?
I think it’s a little early to see exactly how it (SBA financing) is going to be implemented. The SBA is still concluding its regulations, formulations, etc. I think any additional (financing) capacity in the industry for dealers certainly is welcome, particularly for dealers that are challenged. We just need to see what the final formulation is from the SBA. It’s still somewhat uncertain.
We’re told that GE occupies about a 25-35% share of the RV marketplace’s wholesale financing. Is GE looking to increase that share?
We have a significant share. I’m not going to speculate as to the exact amount, but we know we’re a significant player in the industry. We look to increase business that makes sense, that’s profitable for both us and for our dealers. Whether that leads to market share or not … we’re still dealing with an industry that’s been heavily impacted, and I think most of us are thinking more about just getting to the right size versus getting into a market share ‘game’ at the moment.
‘Right size’ could be applied to the RV industry as a whole. Do you feel that there may in fact still be too many dealers, as some have argued, for a downsize market?
I don’t know about too many dealers… What we’ve got is a situation (where) there’s still an imbalance of inventory in the field to the sell-through at retail. I don’t speculate whether it’s too many dealers. I do know that there’s too many units available right now. It’s depressing the sales prices of the inventory dealers are holding, and there just aren’t enough customers willing or able to make the purchase at the dealer level. We need a better balance for the industry to get healthy again.
So, GE’s decision to eliminate the interest hike isn’t necessarily a reflection of the company’s more confident outlook on the state of the industry?
We do have a fairly confident outlook. Let’s put it this way: we’re ‘cautiously optimistic.’ At this point, I don’t know if we’ve found the bottom quite yet, but if we haven’t, we’re awfully close. We’re seeing some positive indications in our RV business with the way inventory levels have come down, and dealer performance metrics are improving. They’re not healthy yet – we’re not prepared to make that statement – but we’ve seen a couple of months of upward trends in some important performance metrics that indicate that we think we are near, or have found, the bottom.
If you want to take a step up and look across the entire economy, Jeff Immelt, GE’s chairman and CEO, was quoted in London today (June 30) on behalf of GE with an outlook that said, “things seem to be brightening.” Again, I don’t think anyone’s prepared to say that things are where they should be or that they are absolutely healthy, but I think overall in a lot of areas besides the RV industry we are seeing signs of improvement on a lot of different fronts.
Another leading finance provider is telling the industry right now that they are in it “for the long haul.” Is GE?
We are going to continue to invest in and support this industry. We’ve been a very long-term player in this industry. When you think about the predecessor companies that were acquired by GE, we go back in the RV industry at least to the late ’70s, and our intention is to make sure that we are here through this cycle and back when the industry is healthy again. We want to be a participant in that.