Moving aggressively to protect its turf against challengers both old and new, Citicorp is testing a nonrevolving charge card modeled after the American Express card and a credit card that offers a 5% rebate on gasoline and oil purchases.

The nation's biggest credit card issuer recently sent out offers for the Next Card, which shares many of the features of the American Express Card, including the $55 annual fee.

The other offer, known as the Drivers Edge card, has been planned for some time, but mailings went out at about the same time Chemical Banking Corp. announced it was offering a bank card with the Shell Oil Co.

Other Products Tested

The cards were among a number of products being tested as part of the bank's market segmentation strategy, in which cards are targeted to various profitable segments of the population.

The American Express Card fee as well as the inability to revolve debt on the cards are often ridiculed by bankers, who offer the credit option with a lower annual fee or no annual fee at all.

The Next Card amounts to an acknowledgement that there is a market for a card which provides convenience and no risk of incurring a finance charge.

Broad-Based Appeal

The Next Card is a surprising development for another reason. Citicorp already owns Diners Club International, a corporate travel card company that competes with American Express. Experts note, however, that the Next Card would appeal to a broader base.

"I think it's going to be successful," said Michael Auriemma, of Auriemma Consulting Group, Inc. "It's the only product that competes head to head with American Express."

Citicorp evidently is hoping consumers will be drawn away from American Express by the wider acceptance of its card. The card is being tested as a Visa, and would be available both in Visa and MasterCard versions if rolled out nationally.

The Drivers Edge card poses a threat to Chemical and a number of other banks contemplating rebate programs with oil company partners.

The cardholders would be entitled to the rebate on gas and oil purchases no matter what gas station they used.

Citicorp will have to evaluate the cost of this particular bid for new accounts, however. Evidently, the bank is paying for the rebates, whereas the oil companies pick up the tab in the joint ventures.

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