DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. launched a debt relief program Monday that allows buyers of a new, used or certified pre-owned vehicle financed through the automaker's lending arm to return it if they lose their job within a year.
The program joins offers of various levels of customer support from several brands during the coronavirus pandemic — from payment deferrals to special financing terms.
The Ford Promise initiative aims to provide support in a time of uncertainty, Matt VanDyke, Ford's director of U.S. marketing, told Automotive News. It runs through Sept. 30.
"Under the new Ford Promise program, customers who lease or purchase a vehicle with Ford Credit financing and then lose their job within a year can return the vehicle," a statement from Ford said.
A Ford spokeswoman said job losses do not have to be related to the pandemic to qualify for the program.
The statement form Ford said, "Ford Credit will value the vehicle using the National Automobile Dealers Association average trade-in value, reduce the customer’s outstanding balance by that amount and waive up to an additional $15,000."
If the amount owed on the vehicle is more than the program limit, the customer is responsible for the difference along with the cost of late or deferred payments and vehicle damage. The account is reported as closed and paid after those conditions are met.
"Every personal use contract that is executed under Ford Credit will come with this addendum to reiterate the program benefits and details as well as provide the customer the information they need should they have the experience of a job loss," VanDyke said.
Ford's program is an attempt to spur vehicle sales among consumers who are unsure about the pandemic, the economy and their own job security. Research from Cox Automotive has shown employment uncertainty is a factor in delaying the purchase of a vehicle.
Ford's U.S. light-vehicle sales fell 12 percent in the first quarter, the largest decline among the Detroit 3, and sales of its popular F-Series pickups dropped 13 percent.
"This program aims to take the stress of economic uncertainty out of the car-buying process by enabling customers to return leased or purchased vehicles if they find themselves unexpectedly out of work," the statement said.
During the 2008-09 recession, Hyundai debuted its Hyundai Assurance program that allowed customers to return their vehicles if they lost their job within 12 months of the purchase date.
Under that program, consumers must have made at least two scheduled payments on their loan or lease and been current on all payments. They also had to pay any outstanding balance above the $7,500 benefit amount. During the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, the automaker resurrected the program and offered new customers up to six months of payments if they purchased or leased their vehicle between March 14 and April 30 through Hyundai Motor Finance and later lost their job because of the pandemic.
This latest Ford program comes on the heels of the payment deferral program, Built to Lend a Hand, that Ford implemented in March. The program was designed to provide payment support to customers throughout the pandemic, according to a March statement by Ford.
A common theme in both programs is the desire to take care of Ford customers, company officials say.
"We think this is going to be turnkey for not only the customers, but for the dealer body as well," VanDyke said. "We're excited about it, and we're glad that the launch is finally here."