Revenues from General Motors' MasterCard portfolio surged 40% last year, even though the gold card rebate award program was cut in half, according to an independent consumer survey.

The competing Ford Citibank card portfolio also grew, increasing Ford Motor Co.'s car sales and Citibank's revenues in the process, said the survey by Brittain Associates Inc. of Atlanta.

Brittain based its calculations on a survey of 6,066 consumers.

The actual revenues, as projected from the study, were not released. But the data suggested that the number of households claiming to own a GM MasterCard rose 4%, and there was a 40% increase in receivables among the households that carry a month-to-month balance.

Bruce Brittain, president of the research firm, said the level of growth was unexpected because of the rebate reduction.

"We were surprised by the fact that it didn't dip," he said. "Frankly, we expected to see the portfolio shrink as some gold card owners dropped out due to the award changes.

"No doubt that happened, but those defections were more than offset by new account acquisitions during the year," he added.

However, the researcher predicted a larger exodus may be in store as customers use up previously accrued awards.

Originally, GM Gold MasterCard owners could earn up to $1,000 a year in rebate dollars over seven years. The $7,000 maximum was twice the amount offered to holders of classic cards.

In September, GM MasterCard dropped the maximum annual award to $500 and held the total to $3,500, saying its rebates were out of step with other gold card award programs.

Large or small, rebate programs do seem to spur car sales, according to another survey finding. Of GM MasterCard and Ford Citibank cardholders, 10% to 20% said they had been prompted to make an unplanned or expedited purchase of a vehicle because they had a rebate available with one of the cards.

GM cardholders were slightly more apt to take action as a result of having the card.

Mr. Brittain said this showed that GM cardholders have slightly more brand loyalty. Though GM customers must actively sign up for the program, existing Citibank customers are often registered for the Ford card automatically as a retention measure, without stating any preference for the automaker.

In January 1995, Ford stated that 71,000 customers had received new car rebates through their Ford Citibank card. Fifteen months later, Brittain projected that 460,000 Ford buyers had redeemed a rebate, nearly a 650% increase.

Ford Citibank now has 4.4 million account holders, slightly fewer than GM MasterCard. But Ford Citibank cardholders are more likely to revolve a balance: The Brittain survey estimated that nearly two-thirds carry balances over from month to month.

"Although the Ford Citibank portfolio is somewhat smaller than GM MasterCard, we estimate that it generates more revenue because of its higher incidence of revolvers," Mr. Brittain said.

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