Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Consumer security blankets - a developing trend?

Buy something. Lose your job. Return what you bought, penalty free.

Earlier this year, automaker Hyundai caused a worldwide why-didn't-we-think-of-that head slap when it announced its Assurance Plus program - a security blanket for consumers in this uncomfortable economy.

Now the idea is being co-opted by an airline, a home builder - even a basketball franchise (hmmmmm, Bobcats?)

Hyundai's plan, announced in January, is fairly simple: If you buy a Hyundai and lose your income from layoff or disability - and all the payments are up to date on the car - then you can walk away from your new or leased vehicle without payments or penalty.

The program also is marketing brilliance - a car company that cares (and takes very little risk, given that few people are going to leave themselves without wheels, even if they do lose a job).

Warmed hearts and good press followed. As did other businesses giving the concept a try.

Last month, Jet Blue offered its Promise Program, a refund for customers who get laid off and want to cancel a trip. Pennsylvania-based luxury home builder Toll Brothers announced its own inventive plan, covering up to six months of mortgage payments - including principal, interest, homeowner’s insurance, and real estate taxes - for homeowners who lose a job within two months of closing on a house.

Now, the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves are introducing the assurance philosophy to professional sports. This week, the Timberwolves announced a no-risk pledge to season-ticket holders. If a season-ticket holder loses his or her job in 2009, the Wolves will refund the money on all games that haven't been played in the season-ticket package purchased.

"We want you to know if you stand by us, we stand by you," said team owner Glen Taylor in a letter to fans.

The Wolves also are dropping ticket prices an average of 18 percent on 95 percent of season tickets, a nod to both the economy and lagging ticket sales. Minnesota ranks 26th out of 30 NBA teams in average attendance.

Might a similarly challenged team try the same? The Charlotte Bobcats are currently ranked 27th in attendance in a city hit hard by the recession.

We contacted Bobcats officials today to see if they're considering an assurance plan. We'll let you know when they get back to us.

What other purchases would you like to see protected by an assurance plan? Tell us in comments.


Anonymous said...

We had Hornets Season tickets years ago and I had just renewed for the season when my husband's company (a major employer in the Charlotte area) filed for bankruptcy. Concerned he might lose his job, I called the Hornets and explained the situation. They were understanding and graciously refunded our ticket purchase.

Anonymous said...

I sure as h--- don't want their returned junk and probably no one does so what happens to it? Sounds like desperation to me.

hipQuest said...

Hyundai is extremely smart but not altruistic. Let's see, I made a down payment, made my payments on time and most likely have kept up with maintenance. Hmmm, seems like they will make money in the pre-owned car market if I have to return my car. What's the figure for the devaluation as soon as you drive most cars off the lot?

What's that saying? There's a sucker born...