More than 30 million consumers will receive preapproved applications for the new GM card over the next three weeks, as General Motors Corp.'s long-awaited program officially gets under way.
The solicitations - which will be supported by a national multimedia advertising campaign -- promise would-be cardholders the chance to earn rebates ranging from $500 to $3,500 or more on the purchase or lease of GM cars and trucks.
If the mailings generate just an average response rate - 5.2% for no-free card offers for the year ending March 31, 1992 - the automotive giant could easily sign up 1.5 million accounts.
A Major Push
"This is one of the most aggressive campaigns in GM corporate history," said Ronald N. Zebeck, managing director of credit card operations for GM.
Mr. Zebeck joined other GM executives in New York on Wednesday to formally unveil the carmaker's credit card, ending months of speculation about what bells and whistles a GM card would boast.
As expected, GM cardholders will accumulate rebates equal to 5% of their annual charge volume, to a maximum of $500 a year. But on Wednesday the company said 5% rebates would also be earned on balances transferred to the GM card from other credit cards.
In addition, cardholders will be able to accrue rebates for seven years, for a potential price break of $3,500. And they can exceed the $3,500 cap by using their cards at a select group of "corporate partners," the first of which are MCI, Avis, and Marriott.
At these companies, consumers earn rebates equal to 10% of their charges, with no limits. So cardholders who frequently do business with them could conceivably accrue enough rebate credit to earn a free vehicle.
"There is no other credit card like the GM card," Mr. Zebeck said. Mr. Zebeck joined GM in October from Advanta Corp., a card issuer in Horsham, Pa.
The GM card is a MasterCard that will be issued through Household Credit Services, a unit of Household International, Prospect Heights, Ill. Its holders will pay an annual percentage rate of prime plus 10.4 percentage points, which makes its current rate 16.4%.
That puts the card in the same league as AT&T Universal Card Services, which is considered to offer some of the lowest rates among the industry's biggest issuers. AT&T cardholders now pay rates ranging from 15.4% to 16.4% to revolve their balances.
Like AT&T, GM is offering its card without an annual fee. But unlike AT&T - which guaranteed its no-fee policy for life -- GM is making no long-term promises.
"It is not in our plans to charge an annual fee," Mr. Zebeck said.
While not unprecedented in the card industry, a direct-mail solicitation of 30 million consumers is massive, said Robert Skolnick of BAI Mail Monitor in Tarrytown, N.Y. Mailings heavily supported by advertising are likely to have better than average response rates, he said.