Uber, Santander partnership on car loans is over

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A partnership between Uber Technologies and Banco Santander SA's SAN.MC U.S. auto loan unit is over, Uber told Reuters, removing one of the country's most prominent car lenders from a program trumpeted by the app-based ride service.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Uber launched a program in November 2013 to link prospective drivers who do not have a car with manufacturers and lenders, in the hopes it would boost the number of cars on the road for the app-based service.

The deal received widespread press attention at the time, and Uber said it hoped to finance 100,000 drivers.

Uber partnered with multiple lenders including Santander Consumer USA Holdings Inc SC.N and Exeter Finance, which is owned by private equity firm Blackstone Group LP BX.N.

It could not be determined why Uber’s deal with Santander ended.

“We are no longer working with Santander Consumer USA but continue to facilitate a variety of other vehicle financing options and auto manufacturer discounts for driver-partners,” a spokesperson at Uber told Reuters on Wednesday.

Spokespeople at Santander and Exeter declined to comment.

Uber operates in 57 countries with an estimated value of more than $40 billion. It had a total of about 162,000 active U.S. drivers in December 2014, according to the company.

Santander Consumer, which is 59 percent owned by Banco Santander, said in November it received more than 900,000 loan applications per month from a variety of sources, including auto manufacturers, online services and over 17,000 dealers.

Uber has not disclosed how many drivers received financing from the Santander program or other lenders that struck deals with the ride-sharing company.

Uber’s relationship with Santander was active as recently as February, according to a Santander web site preserved on an Internet search archive. The site said drivers could sign up for Uber and then lease a new car for as little as $17 per day. “At end of term, you can own the car for $1,” it said.

As of Thursday, the site apologized to visitors and said “this program is currently unavailable,” before directing customers to Santander Consumer’s main web page.

Santander has been the target of criticism for its subprime auto loan business. The company disclosed a civil subpoena from the U.S. Department of Justice and other regulatory agencies for documents related to underwriting and securitization of such loans.

It is not clear whether the investigations were related to Uber’s decision.

Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Amy Stevens and Andrew Hay