Ford Motor Credit Company is offering customers affected by Hurricane Katrina - which has devastated parts of Louisiana (including most of the city of New Orleans) and Mississippi - the opportunity to defer up to two vehicle payments. GM and Nissan have also announced assistance for the storm victims.

Under the disaster relief programme, Ford Credit, Jaguar Credit, Land Rover Capital Group, Mazda American Credit, PRIMUS Financial Services and Volvo Car Finance customers have the opportunity to defer monthly payments without paying extension fees.

The programme is open to customers living in counties that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared federal disaster areas as a result of the storm.

"Customers living in the path of the storm have enough to worry about," said Ford Motor Credit North America president AJ Wagner.  "This programme provides customers some breathing room while they rebuild."

Customers eligible for the programme should receive letters next week with instructions on how to register, and must register within 60 days to qualify. Deferred payments are due at the end of the contract term. Customers who have not received a letter, but believe they qualify, can call a toll-free number to register.

Separately, General Motors has announced that the GM Foundation and GMAC will make a cash donation of $US400,000 to the American Red Cross Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund in support of areas devastated by the hurricane. The foundation has also pledged up to an additional $250,000 in matching funds for contributions made to the fund by GM and GMAC employees through the company's Global Aid Disaster Relief website.

GM is also donating around 25 vehicles for use by the Red Cross in affected areas.

GM's OnStar car telematics service is also helping customers travelling in affected states with routing requests, hotel reservations, weather updates, petrol station directions, contacting relatives and emergency communication with public safety providers.

Although finance arm GMAC has not yet announced any payment deferments, it said it would work closely with affected customers of its auto finance, insurance and mortgage units and urged such customers to contact it for assistance on a case-by-case basis.

Nissan on Monday said it was leasing 50 vehicles made at its Canton, Mississippi plant - itself closed by the storm - to a local emergency agency for $US1 (£0.56) to help with relief efforts.