With disappointing vehicle sales worrying investors, interest rate hikes pose a threat to the saviours of automakers’ recent quarterly results: their lending operations, CBS Marketwatch reported.

Judging from the reliance of General Motors and Ford on their respective GMAC and Ford Credit financial units in the second quarter, industry analysts reportedly warn that a hit on the credit side would certainly pinch future results.

“The overwhelming concentration of earnings in financial services will likely give investors reasons for pause, given the prospect of rising interest rates,” Merrill Lynch analyst John Casesa noted following Ford’s quarterly report, CBS Marketwatch said.

The report noted that, last month, General Motors’ director of market and industry analysis Paul Ballew said that GM could “manage through” a 50-basis point hike, but he declined comment on the future of zero-percent auto financing should the Federal Reserve push short-term rates even higher.

Jesse Toprak, Edmunds.com’s director of pricing and market analysis, told CBS Marketwatch there won’t be a “dramatic” shift in Detroit’s approach unless rates move up more than 1%.

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“[The deals] will be more expensive,” UBS analyst Robert Hinchliffe reportedly said, “but on the other hand, they may be necessary to keep vehicles sales at the level they want or need.”

CBS Marketwatch noted that incentives like zero percent financing have sustained US consumer demand throughout the economic uncertainty that followed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks yet the effects of incentive deals linger for years because consumers have grown to expect cheap loans and fat rebates, not only on run-out models but also on new model year vehicles.

Overall incentive spending for Chrysler, Ford and General Motors reached a record high of $3,819 per vehicle in June, up $358 from May, CBS Marketwatch said, citing Edmunds.com.

The report added that, with analysts clamoring for improving results on the automotive side of the business, GMAC and Ford Credit will likely continue offering extremely low financing deals to spur vehicle sales, regardless of [Federal Reserve bank head] Alan Greenspan’s next move.

“Conventional wisdom is that the lending arms will put up lower numbers,” Hinchliffe reportedly said.

“But it’s hard to say because it depends on the decisions the auto companies make in terms of funneling business through them,” he added, according to CBS Marketwatch.