When he launched General Motors Acceptance Corp. in 1919, John Raskob was the first to create a national captive finance company, and General Motors was the first automaker to take advantage of the potential for mass-market consumer credit.
But GM wasn't the first car company to figure out that its customers and dealers needed a reliable finance source and do something about it.
The first was Willys-Overland Motor Co. in 1915, according to the 1964 edition of Alfred Sloan's memoir, My Years with General Motors.
Willys-Overland, of Toledo, Ohio, was "one of the most successful motorcar manufacturers at that time," Sloan wrote. The automaker partnered with a lender, Guaranty Securities Co., which financed the sale of Willys-Overland and other automobiles.
"This was one of the first automobile financing institutions, if it was not actually the first, to be formed to fill the vacuum created by the absence of normal credit facilities," Sloan wrote.
The press was quick to report Willys-Overland's move. "Buying Cars on Installment Plan Now Is Possible," according to a headline in Motor Age magazine on Nov. 11, 1915. "Overlands and Willys-Knights Can Be Purchased by Monthly Payments to Guaranty Securities Co.," a smaller headline says. In addition to a down payment and fees, the article says, payments had to be made in just eight monthly installments.
A generation later, Willys-Overland would contract to build the now world-famous Jeep for the U.S. military from a design by American Bantam Car Co. of Butler Pa. Today the Jeep brand belongs to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.