Payment-protection plans, introduced to offset job-loss fears among shoppers, may stimulate consumer interest but haven't sparked a noticeable increase in vehicle sales.

So says Gary Allgeier, director-financial services for the Suburban Collection, a dealership group with 31 stores in Michigan and Florida.

Offered by three auto makers, the plans seek to get buyers into dealerships. “But we're not seeing that,” he says during a talk to the Society of Automotive Analysts in Troy, MI. “We're seeing more customers waiting on the fence.

“The programs may bring in traffic, but not sales. Otherwise, we'd have seen the SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual rate) move, and we're not seeing that.”

The adjusted sales rate for light-vehicles was 9.83 million units in March. Last year, 13.2 million units were sold, down nearly 3 million from 2007.

The assurance programs offer varying degrees of financial protection to people who suffer a job loss after buying a vehicle.

Hyundai Motor America was first to market with “Hyundai Assurance.” The auto maker provisionally will buy back its vehicles if owners lose their jobs within 12 months of purchase.

General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. subsequently debuted their own versions. GM's “Total Confidence” runs through April 30 and covers nine payments of up to $500. Ford's “Advantage Plan,” scheduled to run through June 1, makes good on 12 monthly payments of up to $700.

“But people who think they are going to lose their jobs are not buying cars,” Allgeier says.

Florida-based dealer Rick Case, however, credits Hyundai Assurance for helping retail sales at his six Hyundai stores.

Allgeier praises the programs, saying they at least get consumers thinking about buying a car when the anticipated economic recovery occurs. “It's keeping us in their minds.”

Yet, some people in the market for cars face challenges because of stricter credit, he says. Lenders have become particularly insistent that would-be borrowers have a low debt-to-income ratio.

“If you have a high debt-to-income, you are not going to get a car loan, even if you have a good credit score,” Allgeier says.

He tells of a long-time customer who had a healthy 754 credit score but a debt level that was 54% of his annual income.

“This customer had bought eight cars over the last 16 years from one of our Florida stores, but when he went to finance a ninth car the bank turned him down because of his debt level,” Allgeier says.