A success in Europe, Ford Credit's vehicle insurance program is gaining momentum in the U.S. despite being a harder sell.

“We are stepping up promotional campaigns using our data base of about 25 million customers,” says Phil Horlock, executive vice president of Ford Credit for global insurance operations.

In Europe, where countries require all vehicle buyers to purchase new insurance policies, more than 1-million owners have purchased Ford-endorsed vehicle policies. Horlock says reaching that level in the U.S. is more complicated because vehicle owners are allowed to continue existing policies with vehicle changes or additions.

“Persuading an owner to change policies can be tough,” Horlock concedes. “Therefore, we market directly to our owner base telling them that on average, customers have saved more than $350 a year in premiums. That's quite an incentive, and the rate of sales is reflecting that.”

State insurance regulations require licensed agents to sell vehicle insurance.

“Some of our dealers are looking at having their F&I managers take the course and exam required to get a license,” says Horlock. “But it's time-consuming.”

Instead Ford asks its dealers, who move about 4 million cars a year in the U.S., to refer customers to Ford-approved licensed agents.

Ford entered the vehicle-insurance domain about five years ago with The Hartford of Hartford, CT. The program grew modestly, in part due to customers' preferences to obtain more than one quote on premium costs. The program has been restructured with 12 carriers, including The Hartford, so that an applicant can get at least three quotes at a time.

Horlock says a fertile source of Ford insurance business is 5-6% of customers who have no insurance when they are looking to buy a new car.

Ford's insurance initiative expanded from 25 states last year to 42 now. Plans are to go nationwide in 2004.