Capital One Financial Corp. wants to drive into the pockets of an elite group of consumers.
The Falls Church, Va.-based card issuer has partnered with the car manufacturer Daimler-Benz North America Corp. to launch the Mercedes-Benz Credit Corporation Visa credit card.
But, travelling a road seldom followed by issuers seeking to attract a premium clientele, Capital One has eschewed gold and platinum and will only offer the Mercedes-Benz card as a standard Visa, with no rewards structure.
"Mercedes is one of the world's top luxury vehicles, so the key element is not gold or platinum, but the Mercedes name itself," said Paul Cusenza, vice president of value-added alliances for Capital One.
The no-fee card-intended for Mercedes owners-will carry an introductory interest rate of 5.9% for six months, then rev up to prime plus 7.4%, or 15.9%.
Pre-approved applications are being mailed to a portion of Mercedes' 1.2 million customers.
The Mercedes-Benz card has immediately drawn detractors. Richard G. Barlow, president of Frequency Marketing Inc. in Milford, Ohio, called the card "a cynical exploitation of the Mercedes brand."
Mercedes, he said, would not market a car that looked good but was worthless under the hood. Why then, Mr. Barlow asked, would the company market a card that seemed inconsistent with the quality of the products it sells?
And James L. Accomando, president of Accomando Consulting Inc. in Fairfield, Conn., said it was a bad decision to issue the Mercedes-Benz card as a standard one.
"With the plethora of platinum cards on the market, Mercedes missed an opportunity to tie their card back into the value of their service and enhance sales," he said.
Mr. Accomando said Mercedes and Capital One are letting the cars do all the selling and talking.
"Other car companies, like Audi and Volvo, are considering card products, and I am not convinced that Mercedes will last in the marketplace with the heightened competition," he added.
Russ Schoper, president of Business Developments International in Alpharetta, Ga., also found fault with the new card.
"The type of customer that would buy or lease a Mercedes is highly desirable, but I don't see anything cutting edge about this product," he said.
Despite the criticism, Mr. Cusenza of Capital One said the Mercedes-Benz card would connote prestige.
"What is really distinctive about this product versus others is that it is being offered exclusively to Mercedes drivers," Mr. Cusenza said. "When they use the card in a store, it identifies them as a consumer who looks for quality and prestige when they make a purchase."
Cardholders will receive one free entry into a sweepstakes every time they use their card through April. The grand prize is a one-year lease of a Mercedes-Benz SL500 convertible.