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Credit Cards Boost Brand, Dealer Loyalty

Auto makers are finding exclusive credit cards that they issue create new profit centers and boost loyalty to their brands and dealers.

Auto makers are finding exclusive credit cards that they issue create new profit centers and boost loyalty to their brands and dealers.

Chrysler Group, General Motors Corp. and BMW AG, are among a host of car makers that have signed up thousands of customers for credit-card programs. Additionally, Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus luxury division and BMW's Mini brand have started similar programs.

Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi and Subaru brands also offer credit cards with a variety of options.

Chrysler particularly is pleased with its results. Holders of the Chrysler Rewards Visa credit card have charged $78.7 million since 2001 at Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealers.

In return, these customers have redeemed more than $9 million in rewards. Chrysler Financial offers its card in partnership with Bank of America Corp.

“This is a program with nothing but value,“ Kelly Mankin, vice president Chrysler brands marketing for Chrysler Financial, tells Ward's

Each dollar charged on general purchases with the card equals one rewards point, while every dollar charged at a participating dealership equals five rewards points, Mankin notes.

Customers use the dedicated Visa card for down payments on new vehicles; purchases of new or certified pre-owned vehicles; parts service contracts and accessories.

The card “plays a major role in building brand loyalty,” Mankin says.

GM was the first auto maker to offer a credit card in 1992. Since then, the 6 million holders of the GM cards have redeemed an average of $1,300 toward payments for new GM vehicles. A total 5 million redemptions have involved new-vehicle purchases to date.

“It brings in new customers,” a GM spokeswoman says.

BMW Financial Services President Edward A. Robinson says his company has issued 135,000 BMW and 10,000 Mini credit cards to date. Both brands feature Visa cards issued by BMW's own bank.

“The cards say something about the holders,” Robinson says. “The BMW card shows that this is a person who enjoys performance, service and quality. On the other hand, the individuality of the Mini card (which can be customized online) reveals holders who are young at heart.”

Lexus is relatively new to the credit-card business, issuing the Lexus Pursuits Visa card in June 2005. More than 25,000 cards have been distributed since then. The Lexus card gives five reward points for every dollar spent at a brand dealership and 1.5 points on other purchases.

A Lexus spokeswoman says dealers benefit because customers visit their stores more often.

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