US car dealer group AutoNation has launched a new incentive programme that will cover payments on new or used vehicle loans for up to six months if buyers lose their jobs.

Hyundai Motor America recently launched a programme under which vehicle owners may return their vehicles in the first year if they lose their income because of job loss or other reasons - the plan was subsequently expanded to give owners 90 days of payment relief before returning the vehicle.

Earlier this month, General Motors sales chief Mark LaNeve hinted the automaker may copy the Hyundai programme. "We've been looking as possibilities of what we might do," LaNeve said. "We think it's a rich area to explore in this era."

Autonation president Mike Maroone told Reuters the dealer chain's programme, called 'Payment Protection', would cover the instalments as the buyer looks for a new job.

"It is especially timely in this environment," he said. "There are really two big issues in retailing, availability of credit and consumer confidence. This attacks the consumer confidence issue."

Such protection, for an agreed term, is widely available through car dealers and finance companies worldwide, but usually at additional cost to the loan covered. Autonation said its new programme, however, costs the buyer nothing.

The programme, launched at 33 South Florida dealerships, excludes business purchases and may launch nationwide, Maroone added.

AutoNation, the largest US dealer chain with 313 new vehicle franchises in 15 states, will provide the payments to cover the vehicle loan or lease during the first year following the purchase, according to Reuters.

There is an initial 90-day waiting period and the worker must be involuntarily terminated by the employer.