Toyota, Honda and Nissan are counting on new lease programs to keep customers from straying because of the lack of selection of popular models in the aftermath of the March earthquake.
American Honda Motor Co. told dealers last week to offer to extend customers' leases by up to six months on most models. Honda also will offer $500 cash to lease customers who move into new leases.
Honda's campaign, marketed as the Honda Promise Program, also will give customers a rain check on current incentives if they commit to a model that is unavailable. Customers would be able to lock in existing incentives in July that can be used through October, as the vehicles become available.
"Most of the push is geared toward lease customers," said a Honda dealer who asked not to be named. "They do not want to lose them. They are too valuable and too hard to get back."
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. also has launched an effort to keep customers in existing leases, according to Bob Carter, Toyota Division general manager. Under the program, which has not been widely advertised, Toyota will extend leases by six months. Toyota also will give lease customers a $750 coupon to use when they turn in the vehicle and lease another Toyota.
Nissan North America is offering short-term low-priced lease deals on its best-selling model, the Altima sedan. It's advertising the car at $179 a month for a 24-month lease.
Mazda spokesman Jeremy Barnes said Mazda has no formal program to extend leases. But a company statement said Mazda Capital Services "will work with qualified customers to offer lease extensions if there is a delay" in vehicle availability.
"What's really driving this is the inventory situation," says John Sternal, vice president of marketing at LeaseTrader.com. The company arranges lease swaps for consumers.
"The Japanese imports have been rebuilding their inventories since the earthquake in March. But they've still got a lot of holes," Sternal says. "What they're doing with the lease extensions and shorter-term leases is a bridge strategy -- they want to hold onto those customers until 2012, when the inventories will be back in full."
Another key issue this summer is the tight supply of good used vehicles, says Alec Gutierrez, manager of vehicle valuation at Kelley Blue Book. "Fewer trade-ins are coming through, and manufacturers need those lease customers to keep supplying them with two- and three-year-old models," he says.
He estimated that used prices for fuel-efficient models are 20 percent higher this summer than they were at the beginning of the year.
Mark Rechtin contributed to this report