(New York Times) — Detroit is crowing that the auto industry is back, but so far, at least, it is a success story built as much on a revival in lending as on the development of desirable cars. Sales of new cars rose 11 percent, to around 11.4 million, in 2010 and are off to an even stronger start this year, according to Autodata, an industry research service. Sales of used cars have been similarly robust.
After radically scaling back auto lending during the financial crisis, banks and the lending arms of the automakers have started to issue loans more aggressively. Borrowers of all types are now finding it much easier to obtain a loan compared with a few months ago. Even car buyers with tarnished credit histories are getting financing, in some cases without making a down payment. More than 859,000 new cars were sold to consumers with a so-called subprime credit rating in 2010, a nearly 60 percent increase from the year before, according to CNW Marketing Research.
The revival of auto lending is emblematic of an increased appetite for risk in the American economy. Consumers, showing renewed confidence in the recovery, are opening their wallets again after putting off car purchases during the recession. Banks, flush with deposits to lend out, have eased their standards for extending credit. And investors, who fled from the bond market during the throes of the crisis, are starting to snap up higher-risk debt as they seek higher yields.