For Struggling Car Owners, Hyundai Offers Lifeline

It's no secret the bad economy has sent vehicle sales plunging. For Hyundai, based in South Korea, sales fell 14 percent in 2008 compared with the previous year.

The carmaker has now unveiled the Hyundai Assurance Program, a complimentary vehicle-return program that allows car buyers to return their vehicles within the first year if they have an involuntanry loss of income.

John Krafcik, acting president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, says the company may be the first to offer such a plan.

"As far as we know, we're the first automaker to have a program like this one, that actually allows you to return the car with very few questions asked within the first 12 months of ownership," he tells NPR's Michele Norris.

The program covers the car's first $7,500 loss in value, Krafcik says. He says that if a consumer buys a $20,000 car and returns it within the first year, and the value of the car is determined to be $12,500 or more, Hyundai will cover that whole difference. If, however, the value of the car after one year is determined to be less than $12,000, then the car buyer would be responsible for the $500.

Krafcik says Hyundai's size — at 3 percent market share, it is the seventh-biggest brand in the U.S. — allows it to implement a plan like this one.

"We're still small enough to be pretty nimble," he says. "And we very quickly rallied around this idea."

Krafcik says the program would allow Hyundai to differentiate itself from other carmakers.

"We wanted to try a different kid of program that seemed to address people's fears during these uncertain times," he says.

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