LENTZ:I think at the bottom, after the tsunami and everything else, our share dropped to 12.8, something like that. We were as high as 17 percent in 2009, in the midst of the financial crisis, when many of our competitors didn’t have access to capital. They couldn’t wholesale cars to dealers, they couldn’t provide retail financing, they got out of the lease business altogether. At the same time we had a spike in fuel prices. So we had a lot of tail winds. So I think we were never as good as 17 percent. I can tell you we’re much better than 12.8. We’re on target to hit our sales plan this year. If the industry comes in at about 15.5 million (annual car and truck sales), our share will be 14.4 to 14.5. So I think we’re in good shape.
Q: Do you attribute some of the drop to more competitive cars in your bread-and-butter markets?
LENTZ:Yes. There are much better cars on the market today than there were five years ago, and compared to 10 years ago, it’s a night-and-day difference. One reason the average age of a car today is 11 years is the quality’s gotten better. Look at the midsize segment. If you go back 15 years, there were really two major players, Accord and Camry. Today there are arguably five or six really good options.
Q: Why do you think the US auto industry has come back as strong as it has? Did the comeback surprise you?
LENTZ:I don’t think it’s a surprise. The industry has historically been driven by low interest rates and (strong) consumer confidence. Today, interest rates are still at historical low levels. Consumer confidence, it’s wobbling its way back up. Part of that’s being driven by housing, which is making its way back. People’s 401(k) statements, for the most part they’ve recovered. So I think they feel relatively confident. On top of that the average age of the vehicle today is over 11 years old. You have a lot of needs-based buyers now.