Banc One Corp. has launched a Visa service that can sweeten car deals gone sour.

The Columbus, Ohio, banking company is offering a new Visa card to the 3.3 million members of the California State Automobile Association.

The card comes with "LemonAssist," a first-of-its-kind enhancement intended to help resolve car buyers' disputes with vehicle manufacturers or dealers.

Triple-A Seal of Approval

Given the state's lemon law, the enhancement could prove valuable, said Steven A. McQueen, a senior vice president at the Banc One division in Lafayette, Ind., that is responsible for American Automobile Association affinity marketing.

The California auto association would help atribute a settlement between the cardholder and the dealer or manufacturer.

According to a fact sheet provided by Visa U.S.A. the association also "may pay the vehicle owner the actual cash value of the vehicle if the lemon law does not resolve the issue."

Other Auto Club Deals

The card is the latest AAA offering by Banc One, which launched its first in 1979 and has relationships with 47 auto clubs representing 600,000 accounts, Mr. McQueen said.

"I would estimate corporatewide that we have about 100,000 accounts [in California], so this is a new entree for Bank One into the California market," he added.

The bank expects to land at least another 100,000 accounts in its initial LemonAssist mailing. The program also has the potential of becoming a platform for cross-marketing other Banc One services, Mr. McQueen said.

The card also represents an inroad by Visa U.S.A. in cobranding, a part of the card business that masterCard had almost to itself until recently.

AAA cards were among the first such affinity cards in the late 1970s, and were issued as both MasterCard and Visa cards.

In the past few years, MasterCard moved ahead aggressively by licensing cards sponsored by General Motors Corp., General Electric Co., and others, while Visa called a moratorium to study whether the programs treatened banks' investment in the payment system.

Response to GM Program

"We are making progress," a Visa spokeswoman said. She said the cobranded AAA-Visa card comes on the heels of a GM Card launched in Britain with both Visa and MasterCard logos and a Visa-only card sponsored by Nordstrom Inc.

The AAA/Visa has no annual fee and offers benefits, including collision damage waivers on rented cars and a "Diamond Dollars" award program, which allows cardholders to earn credits toward travel services and other auto club products.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.