In coronavirus lockdown, automakers offering cash incentives, breaks on car loans

Zac Palmer

Updated Thursday, March 26.

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Several automakers said U.S. buyers of new vehicles will have the option to defer their payments, and customers with existing car loans could ask for payment rescheduling if impacted by shutdowns due to the spread of coronavirus.

The move is also aimed at boosting new car sales during a time of uncertainty for dealerships, as an unprecedented wave of closures and restrictions is prompting millions of U.S. workers and students to stay home to slow the spread of the outbreak.

More than 68,000 people in the United States have been confirmed as being infected with the fast-spreading virus and the U.S. death toll has passed 1,000.

  • Ford is offering six months of payment relief, wherein Ford will cover the first three months of payments, and allow customers to defer payments for another three months after that.

  • FCA is offering attractive financing deals, at 0.9 percent APR for 84 months on certain Jeep, Dodge and Ram vehicles. Customers can also defer payments for 90 days.

  • GM is also joining its American compatriots in offering deals. Certain models are being offered with 0 percent financing for 84 months. Payments can also be deferred for up to 120 days. Three GB of free in-car WiFi for three months is available to GM customers, as is OnStar crisis assist.

  • Hyundai said it would defer payments for select new cars by 90 days, and if you lose your job, it will cover up to six months of payments on bought and leased cars. The same deal is also being offered to Genesis customers.

  • Nissan is offering new customers a 90-day payment referral program to "well qualified customers" who finance through Special APR.

  • Toyota and Lexus will allow qualifying customers to defer payments for up to 90 days in both new and certified used vehicles.

  • Kia is offering payment deferrals of up to 120 days on most vehicles. Buyers will also be able to take advantage of 0 percent financing throughout the lineup.

  • Honda and Acura are offering cash. Customers who buy certain Acuras should expect $500 off, and some Honda buyers should expect $1,000 off. Buyers will also be allowed to defer payments for 90 days if they finance through the manufacturer's financial services.

  • Subaru has no payment deferral plans, but is offering 0 percent financing on most models.

  • Mitsubishi is allowing current Mitsubishi owners to defer payments up to 120 days, and prospective Mitsubishi owners are allowed 90 days.

Various other companies don't have defined coronavirus relief plans, but they're seeking to help customers on a case-by-case basis. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti are among this group

U.S. auto loans have been climbing at a steady rate since 2011 and were up $16 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019 to $1.33 trillion nationwide, according to data by the New York Federal Reserve.

More than 7 million Americans are already 90 or more days behind on their car loans, and serious delinquency rates among borrowers with the lowest credit scores have by far seen the fastest acceleration.

For America's working poor, having a car is often an essential ingredient for keeping a job and forced closures of restaurants and other businesses could exacerbate the situation.

So far, automakers and their suppliers have avoided production shutdowns in the United States due to parts already en route, or resorting to air shipments and different plants.

But analysts are reducing their 2020 sales forecast for the U.S. market due to the outbreak. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said in a research note last week he expects "demand shock" to send U.S. auto sales down 9% this year. Before the outbreak, he had expected a decline of 1% to 2%.

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