LOS ANGELES -- Lexus and Mercedes-Benz last week unveiled affinity credit cards.
By using the cards, customers earn credit toward the purchase of vehicles from the two brands.
The two luxury powerhouses are adding the cards in part because the power of traditional advertising is fading. So automakers are seeking new ways to build customer loyalty.
The Lexus Pursuits Visa Card will be available this summer. Card users can accrue points good toward 10 percent of a new Lexus, no matter what the purchase price.
Cardholders also can use points for parts, service and merchandise at Lexus dealerships. Customers also can use the card for airline miles.
The Lexus card is a product of the newly launched Toyota Financial Savings Bank. Mercedes' card is available from Bank of America.
Because the Lexus card is offered by a Toyota-owned bank, Lexus' marketers say they can control information not always available from third-party banks.
Ray Specht, CEO of Toyota Financial Savings Bank, says Lexus will not track an individual consumer's spending habits. But it may bundle the demographic trends of GS 430 owners to see how often they use the card, for example, at Home Depot or Nordstrom. This information could be useful for marketing alliances.
Specht says that Lexus will contact consumers only three times a year with direct-mail pitches.
Lexus expects to issue about 10,000 cards initially, with credit lines as high as $50,000.
The Mercedes card replaces an affinity card launched in 1997. The original card has no tangible customer benefits, says Kathryn Blake, director of credit card services for Mercedes-Benz Credit.
The new Mercedes-Benz Visa card accrues points for parts and service work at dealerships. The points also can be used toward monthly payments on vehicles financed through Mercedes-Benz Credit but cannot be used to discount the original purchase price of the vehicle.
A Mercedes cardholder buying a new vehicle with the card will get points for the entire purchase price of the vehicle. But Lexus caps the redeemable value of the auto purchase.
Mercedes-Benz already has 70,000 cardholders. Blake wants to reach out to all 2 million Mercedes owners in the United States.
Ownership of a Mercedes-Benz is a prerequisite for card membership, Blake said.
You may e-mail Mark Rechtin at