Tumbling sales have forced every automaker to rethink strategies, and today both General Motors and Ford announced new incentive measures similar to the Hyundai Assurance Plus Program. Hyundai's incentive program began earlier this year, and is likely partly responsible for the South Korean automaker's impressive sales performance thus far in 2009. The GM Total Confidence Program and Ford Advantage Plan were just announced this morning, so only time will tell if they help jump-start sales.

Each automaker's incentive program might look similar on the surface, but there are important differences. They all offer what's called payment protection, which means that if you buy one of their vehicles and lose your job within a certain period of time, the automaker will make your payments for a certain number of months (or until you get a new job, whichever comes first).

Follow the jump to find out what sets each incentive program apart. We've also created a handy comparison chart that lays out each program's component side-by-side.

Comparison of vehicle car payment plans

GM, Ford and Hyundai each have different terms and limits for their payment protection plans, but they're basically the same thing under the hood. Where each automaker differs is what's offered above and beyond payment protection. GM offers equity assistance, which that means if you've bought an eligible vehicle and made payments for at least half the life of your loan, the automaker will pay the difference between what you owe on the vehicle and its actual value when you decide to buy a new one. This erases any negative equity from depreciation that may have accumulated, and GM will cover up to $2,500 if you sell your vehicle to a private party and $5,000 if you trade it in for another GM vehicle. Neither Ford nor Hyundai offer a similar incentive.

Hyundai, however, allows you to outright return a new vehicle within 12 months with no credit ramifications if you lose your job. Neither GM nor Ford offer this incentive, and Hyundai also covers any negative equity accumulated up to $7,500 when you return a vehicle.

While the Ford Advantage Plan isn't as robust as the other two, it does offer some of the most generous payment protection terms by covering the owner for 12 months from the vehicle's purchase date and making payments up to $700/month, the highest limit of the three.

Check out the comparison chart above, which contains everything we know at this time about each program. Also, keep in mind that these incentive programs can be combined with other deals being offered like money back and low interest rates.

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