DETROIT - General Motors is the lead husky pulling the Big 3 incentive sled this spring.
Each of the makers revised or renewed its rebate and finance programs last week.
But Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group didn't act until they learned of GM's plan.
Ford pretty much matched GM, and Chrysler extended the generous givebacks it had used throughout the winter.
The incentive wars show that GM is pressing its financial edge over Ford and Chrysler as the two smaller companies struggle to bounce back from last year's huge loses.
GM's biggest change was dumping the 0 percent loans it inaugurated last September to jump start new-vehicle sales after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Its finance lure now is 1.9 percent to 3.9 percent across the board.
The GM and Ford incentives expire July 1; Chrysler group's end July 8 for minivans and May 31 for other models.
Ford kept 0 percent in some regional programs, but its national spiffs now start at 0.9 percent. Chrysler still has many 0 percent offers.
GM also shelved its "$2,002 for 2002" pitch, replacing it with $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000 rebates. Coupled with the 1.9 percent to 3.9 percent rebates, GM's program aims for simplicity; the corporation says it makes purchasing a new vehicle "as simple as 1-2-3." The program's name is
Chrysler's rebates are as high as $2,500. But its financing rates vary from nameplate to nameplate and sometimes within nameplates. For example: The loan rates for coupes and sedans of the Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Sebring are different.
Ford's program is downright complicated.
At Ford Division, cash incentives are $500 to $3,000, or customers may take cut-rate finance in lieu of a rebate. But seven car and truck lines offer a cash rebate or a reduced loan rate or a lower rebate combined with a break on financing.
For example, a Windstar minivan brings a $3,000 rebate. Or the customer may choose 0.9 percent to 3.9 percent financing. A third choice is a $1,000 rebate combined with 0.9 to 4.9 percent financing. Incentive tables are on Page 49.
Summing up, GM has the simplest of the springtime Big 3 incentives, and Chrysler is second. Ford brings up the rear.
But Ford Motor leads in one category: The $7,000 rebate on the 2002 Lincoln Town Car is the highest customer payback in the industry. It is a cleanout incentive; the 2003 Town Car is already on sale.