$968 billion in open auto loans
However, Experian's Melinda Zabritksi says, whether these rosy times continue hinges largely on consumers continuing to make their payments.
And for the most part, they have done so.
According to the State of the Automotive Finance Market report from Experian Automotive, 30-day delinquencies fell from 2.7 percent in the third quarter of 2014 to 2.5 percent in Q3 2015.
Likewise, 60-day delinquencies showed a similar decline, moving from 0.74 percent to 0.73 percent.
Overall, outstanding auto loan balances were at $968 billion in the third quarter, which Experian said was its highest level. A year ago, total open balances were at $870 billion. The year before, $784 billion.
Perhaps most important, the Q3 2015 figure is more than 53 percent higher than the post-recession trough.
"Continued growth in the automotive finance market is a clear sign of improved consumer confidence over the past few years," Zabritski, Experian's senior director of automotive finance, said in the company's news release accompanying the study results.
"Since bottoming out in the recession, automotive sales have rebounded steadily, which is a good sign for consumers, automotive manufacturers, lending organizations and the overall economy. What's critical to this success is that consumers stay on top of their payments," she added. "If they can continue to manage their financial obligations and make timely payments, the automotive industry can continue to flourish and grow for quite some time."
Breaking down the credit tiers of open loans
- 20.82 percent of open loans were super prime.
- 40.36 percent were prime.
- 18.42 percent were nonprime.
- 16.61 percent were subprime.
- 3.79 percent were deep subprime.
Experian said in its news release for the study that "the distribution of open loans by risk segment remains relatively unchanged, demonstrating that the surge in outstanding automotive financing is driven by consumers across the board, not a specific segment of the market."
The super prime category had the biggest year-over-year jump in open loan volume (up 8.34 percent), but subprime (up 7.8 percent) and nonprime (up 7.7 percent) weren't far behind.