Auto One Capital, a commercial auto lender that has specialized in chauffeured vehicles since 1997, has ridden with operators in all kinds of markets and economies. It now looks to provide loans and funding that can help future operators meet their fleet financials.
With a background in dealership sales, owner Michael Villani brought experience from the financial side of fleet purchasing and leasing. To focus on limo operators, Villani attended trade shows and learned about the industry. “Trial by fire,” he says of his early experiences. “I went to all the shows and met with all the manufacturers and felt my way through.”
Villani found success and was soon a known vendor to operators nationwide. The partnerships formed between Auto One Capital and its clients have been tested during industry downturns. In the months following 9/11, Villani reached out to customers who were having difficulty and offered to extend or rework loans. “I kind of had this feeling that we’re all in this together,” Villani says.
By investing in his clients, they in turn could grow and provide Villani more business. As the industry entered the recession of 2008, times got even tougher for limo operators. But Villani and Auto One Capital stayed close to their clients to make sure they could remain solvent.
“We did lose a lot of operators in 2008,” Villani says. “But we kept in touch with those we had and differed payments. I probably lost close to 40% of my portfolio, but you work through it, and the business came back. It worked out very well.”
Operators emerging from the recession came out stronger than before, Villani says. “We lost a lot of people who were just hanging on and it strengthened the industry I believe.”
Fleet Vehicles Are A Changing
Now into his 18th year of business, Villani notes how operators are trying out new vehicle brands and types following the retirement of the Lincoln Town Car. The diversity has strengthened operators because they are fitting different vehicle types into different niches of customers, Villani says. “They’re finding out what works best, so rather than having a focal point as the Town Car, you’re seeing operators try Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler, or the MKT. It’s now spread out and operators are using different products in different venues.”
Auto One Capital, based in Melville, N.Y., has operator clients nationwide that include many well-established companies cultivated over the years. “We have some that have been with us since the beginning in 1997,” Villani says.
Villani thoroughly interviews new clients seeking fleet funding. He pores over their financial history and revenue and advises them on the best way to acquire vehicles. “It’s like a financial marriage that we both get together on,” Villani explains. “We’re looking at not only today, but two, five, and even 10 years down the road. We want to help them grow and expand.”
What’s On Operators’ Minds?
Part of Villani’s job is to better understand operator concerns about their businesses. He’s heard about the difficulties of increased insurance rates and taxes. He also says operators are becoming more inclined to stock larger vehicles.
“The trend seems to be going to buses,” he says. “That has been going on for the last several years. Now I am even seeing an increase in full motorcoach buses that hold 50 passengers. This industry changes itself every so often. About 10 to 15 years ago, it was the 120-inch limos, then it was the Hummers and SUV stretches, and now it’s coach buses.”
Being committed to clients and high standards for lending are two ways Villani builds a loyal base of vehicle customers, who are mutually invested in the growth and success of the industry. In the last two decades, Villani has seen funding providers come and go, but believes in a strong industry future, with Auto One Capital solidly supporting operators around the U.S.
Auto One Capital
Market: Commercial auto lending for limousine/livery
Location: Melville, N.Y.
Owner: Michael Villani
Contact: (631) 531-0682; [email protected]