Crystal Cox/Business Insider
New vehicle sales in the US have declined significantly as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has worsened.
With business shutdowns across the country, many car dealerships are unable to keep their showrooms open, although they can continue to operate essential service operations.
Automakers have responded by rolling out flexible payment terms for stressed customers, extended lease periods, and appealing financing for qualified borrowers.
Some automakers are also encouraging customers to explore shop-from-home programs.
New car sales in the US plunged in the second half of March as much of the country was locked down to fight the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
For many Americans, it's nearly impossible to visit a car dealership to check out a new vehicle or explore a lease. Shutdowns in many states have compelled dealers to close their showrooms, leaving the service departments open because they're defined as "essential" businesses.
Additionally, financial stress from a job loss or layoff has made making monthly loan or lease payments a challenge.
The situation is pretty confusing right now. But if the nation remains closed for business in may regions, people are going to need to replace old cars with new ones, or contend with leases that are expiring.
For the moment, many automakers and the so-called "captive" finance companies have developed ways for customers to buy new vehicles on favorable terms, and for owners to work out their payments if they're experiencing money problems.
Bear in mind that if your financing if through a bank or credit union, the situation could be different.
Here's a rundown of where we're at the automakers:
Interest rates are low. According to Bankrate, the average new vehicle loan as of April 1 was under 5%, for a 60-month term.
Auto loan rates for buyers with good credit have been low for years, but the Federal Reserves' interest-rate cut in the face of the coronavirus pandemic should drive them lower.
You still need to have a solid credit score to quality for the best rates. However, if you're credit isn't perfect, you can still get a loan. But your monthly payments would be higher, and you'll spend more on interest over the life of a loan.
With car sales plummeting, you could make some deals.
Carlos Osorio / AP
Dealerships are motivated to make sales, so if you've been considering a new car, and you aren't apprehensive about naming your price, this is a good time to talk to a dealer and see what you can work out.
Honda/Acura. The carmaker is using its finance arm to assist new and existing customers.
According to Honda, "Existing Acura and Honda Financial Services account holders could request "[p]ayment extensions and deferrals of up to 60 days, as well as late fee waivers."
The company would also contribute $1,000 toward buying a new Honda and $500 toward a new Acura." (Acura is Honda's luxury division.)
Honda has outlined a 90-day-deferred payment program on new financing.
Ford Credit said that stressed customers could request payment delays and also laid out a 90-day no-payment plan for new purchases.
Placing the decision in the context of prior efforts to help customers at times of local and national disasters, Ford directed customers to their "Account Manager profile either online at accountmanager.ford.com or through the FordPass app" maintained by the company.
Customers were also directed to "visit fordcreditsupport.com or call a special hotline – 1-800-723-4016 – to discuss options" for potentially delayed payments.
The programs also apply to the Lincoln luxury brand.
General Motors is offering a range of options, concentrated on helping distressed customers.
GM Financial has offered assistance to customers, directing them to several resources at a dedicated coronavirus site.
The company is waiving late fees through April 30 and also allowing leases to be automatically extended for a month if they're expiring, and customers don't need to take any action. GM Financial can't extend lease payment terms, but it will waive late fees.
For new buyers with great credit, GM has rolled out 84-month, 0% interest financing, with no payments due for 120 days.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Chrysler Capital is offering favorable financing terms and extended payment times.
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FCA's "Drive Forward" initiative kicked off, starting April 1.
"Consumers can take advantage of special incentives, including 0% financing for 84 months and no payments for 90 days on select FCA 2019 and 2020 models," the automaker said.
Hyundai/Genesis. The Korean automaker has revived a program that it used during the 2008-09 financial crisis.
Hyundai Motor North America and Hyundai Capital also said last week in a statement that it would "make up to six months of payments for new owners who lose their jobs and have purchased or leased their vehicle between March 14 to April 30, 2020 through Hyundai Capital."
The carmaker added, "Additionally, for select new purchases through April 30 financed by Hyundai Capital, Hyundai is deferring payments for 90 days at the customer's request."
The program is called "Assurance Job Loss Protection" and was used during the financial crisis.
"Originally conceived in January 2009 ... the Hyundai Assurance Job Loss Protection program was the first of its kind for an automaker in the US," the company noted. "It reinforced Hyundai's commitment to helping its customers by allowing them to return their vehicle if they lost their job. Today, the program provides six months of payment relief."
The program also applies to the Genesis luxury brand.
Kia is offering payment relief and financing deals.
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Kia Motors Finance had 0% financing for 72 months with deferred first payment. The terms applied to vehicles purchased before March 31.
Kia is also offering 30-day lease and loan payment deferrals.
Toyota/Lexus is offering case-by-case workouts on payments through Toyota Financial Services.
The company is also allowing new customers to defer loan and lease payments for 90 days.
Nissan/Infiniti. The carmaker is offering low financing deals, extended payments, and case-by-case payments arrangements.
Nissan's Infiniti luxury brand is also offering flexible payment terms.
Porsche is providing substantial support to customers who lease vehicles.
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On a case-by-case basis, Porsche customers could extend their leases by 30-60 days.
Automakers are also encouraging customers to buy or lease a vehicle without leaving home.
Most Americans buy their cars by going to a showroom, test driving a vehicle, then working out a deal and securing the financing and insurance on-site.
But automakers and dealers have been exploring ways to sell and deliver vehicles to customers without requiring them to leave home. The pandemic is likely to accelerate that process.
GM is offering this option to customers, but it's on a dealer-by-dealer basis, so a prospective buyer has to reach out to the brand they're interested in — Chevy, GMC, Buick, Cadillac — and be referred to a dealer from there.
Chevy's "Shop.Click.Drive." program allows consumers to investigate inventories, arrange for a test drive, manage paperwork, and schedule a vehicle pickup without making a showroom visit.
FCA also unveiled a shop-from-home program, call the "Online Retail Experience."
It "allows consumers to purchase vehicles from the comfort of their homes via the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram Truck, Fiat and Alfa Romeo brand websites and participating dealer websites," the company said.
Porsche also announced that customers could reach out to dealers to explore digital shopping and home-delivery options.
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