AutoNation Inc rolled out a new incentive program on Wednesday that covers up to six months of car payments on new or used vehicles for consumers who lose their jobs.
The program, "Payment Protection," will cover the payments as the buyer looks for a new job, said Mike Maroone, president of AutoNation, the country's largest dealership chain, in an interview.
"It is especially timely in this environment," he said. "There are really two big issues in retailing, availability of credit and consumer confidence."
"This attacks the consumer confidence issue," Maroone added.
The program, similar to one by Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co Ltd, costs nothing for the buyer, and comes as U.S. auto sales plunged to 9.3 million units on an annualized basis, a 27-year low, in January and February.
The program, launched at 33 South Florida dealerships on Wednesday, excludes business purchases and may launch nationwide, Maroone said.
AutoNation, which owns and operates 313 new vehicle franchises in 15 states, will provide the payments to cover the vehicle loan or lease during the first year following the purchase.
There is an initial 90-day waiting period and the worker must be involuntarily terminated by the employer.