Dealerships offer affinity Visa cards

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Staff Reporter Donna Harris can be reached at or 540-668-7295.

Until now, manufacturers have had the corner on affinity Visa cards designed to boost customer loyalty among car buyers.

But a Vero Beach, Fla., marketing company, PrivilegeONE Networks, in partnership with Fleet Bank of Horsham, Pa., has started offering a similar tool to new-car dealers. The Visa card made its debut at 13 New England dealerships Monday, Oct. 8. Visa International is not aware of any similar affinity card programs for dealers, a spokesman said.

One difference between factory and dealer cards is that with a dealer-sponsored Visa card, the cardholders are tied to a dealer. Consumers with a General Motors Visa card can claim the benefits at any GM dealership.

PrivilegeONE cardholders earn up to $750 in award dollars toward new- or used-car purchases. They also are entitled to a 10 percent discount on parts and service at the featured dealership, as well as complimentary tire rotations and various safety checks, said John Yates, CEO of PrivilegeONE. Customers who use the card for major service at the dealership can qualify for a $500 trade-in allowance.

Participating dealers pay $2,900 in start-up fees and $999 monthly for administration.

In other retail news:

  • Gunderson Chevrolet, an El Monte, Calif., dealership accused of adding hidden charges to sales contracts, began mailing an estimated 1,450 refund checks to customers, said the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office. In April, Gunderson, an AutoNation dealership, settled California's civil fraud case against it for $2.5 million in restitution and fees, without admitting liability.

  • Lithia Motors Inc., a publicly held dealership chain in Medford, Ore., has acquired Ted Tufty Dodge in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Seattle BMW in Seattle for an undisclosed cash sum.

  • Traffic is returning to normal at some automotive Web sites, such as online broker CarsDirect.com, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Edmunds.com said traffic was better than normal, possibly because of

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