The latest attack on subprime automobile dealers came in the form of HBO’s satirical news/comedy show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on Aug. 14.
The 17–minute segment slammed the subprime and buy-here, pay-here industry, criticizing everything from mark-ups and high interest rates to repossessions.
Oliver uses the most extreme negative examples: from a car sold with more than 100 percent markup to one that was repossessed with a baby in the back seat. He also cites information from the Los Angeles Times 2011 series of articles that slammed the buy-here, pay-here industry.
Oliver also suggested there is a subprime auto bubble, though the piece offered little evidence to suggest there is such a bubble.
The segment offered just a brief snippet about starter-interrupt devices, but did not clearly explain how the devices are used.
Oliver also called out Ken Shilson, founder of the National Alliance of Buy-Here, Pay-Here Dealers. The show used a hidden-camera to record him speaking before a debt buyer’s group.
Shilson offered a brief response to the show.
“John Oliver is a comedy show that does not warrant any further comment from me,” he stated. “The content should not be taken seriously.
“In my opinion we need to focus on relevant matters impacting the buy-here, pay-here industry today, which is exactly what we do at NABD.”
Steve Jordan, CEO of the NIADA, agreed, “"The opinions from John Oliver's piece were satirical and funny, but didn't provide any credible industry data or level of journalism that would merit a formal comment on behalf of the automotive industry."
Corrine Kirkendall, vice president of compliance and public relations at Passtime, said the entire segment was disappointing.
Kirkendall said the piece was especially unfair to Shilson by editing one part of a comprehensive program to paint his comments in a bad light.
“It really misrepresented him,” she said.
As far as the overall show, Kirkendall said the producers could have done a good piece without “bashing the industry,” but they didn’t do that.
“I understand they were trying to be comical, but the sad part is it’s not accurate,” she said. "The facts they pulled were old statistics and old information.
“There’s always two sides to a story and they didn’t show the dealer side to it. It’s a business (dealers) have to operate under very strict rules, while putting up all the risk for a consumer with challenged credit.
“They don’t look at what the risk is for the business person, particularly for buy-here, pay-here dealers who are using their own money.”
Kirkendall said she understands the consumer side of the issue.
“But there has to be a balance and some fair play,” she said, “and there wasn’t fair play.”
Despite lambasting dealers who sell to poor-credit customers, Oliver started out the piece by citing how challenging it is for people without cars to get to work and how inefficient public transportation is as a replacement.
Watch the video below: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Auto Lending
Auto Lending: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)