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Car and truck shoppers might be missing out on thousands of dollars in rebates simply because they don’t know they exist. Vehicle manufacturers are battling to persuade potential car shoppers to buy, and they’re offering a solid persuasive tool–cash.

First responders, college graduates, BoostUp card users and even owners of certain vehicles are among the groups targeted by automakers with conditional rebates, incentive money that can be combined with retail spiffs to lower the cost of purchasing or leasing a new car or truck.

“Unless you have been to the automaker’s website, and looked at the conditional rebate offers, you will probably not get everything you are entitled to unless you ask for it,” said Brad Korner, general manager of AIS Rebates, which is a sister Cox Automotive division to KBB. Generally speaking, these conditional rebates are not advertised in TV and radio commercials.

Target marketing

Simply put, retail rebates are available to everyone. Conditional rebates are available to a select target market group.

For example, Ford F-150 pickup truck buyers are eligible for several conditional rebates if they meet specific criteria: recent high school, trade school or college graduate; first responder such as police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians and active military personnel, reservists and veterans within two years of separation are eligible for specific $500 rebates. There’s also mobility motoring assistance for the disabled, up to $1,000. Even members of the American Quarter Horse Association can get a $500 rebate. All these incentives are listed on Ford’s website.

In addition, a $500 conditional rebate for Chevrolet or Ford pickups is available to members of the American Farm Bureau residing in a number of states. Plus most farm bureau chapters offer the discount other selected Ford vehicles.

“You hate to say this, [but] an uneducated buyer can be taken advantage of. In a lot of cases they are not asking the right questions,” Korner said.

School and veteran status count

Among the groups targeted by Toyota for conditional rebates are recent college, university, junior college, technical college, and trade/vocational college graduates, all eligible for $750 cash back. The rebate is even extended to students enrolled in graduate programs. Active military and inactive reserve personnel can receive $1,000. There also might be other conditional rebates in selected geographic regions.

Registered Uber drivers are targeted but Toyota would not reveal how much it provides nationally in the program. However, AIS Rebates puts the amount at $750 on selected models for drivers in the Boston and Kansas City regions.

Hyundai has a broader approach for registered Uber drivers offering a $1,000 on all 2017 and 2018 models nationally. The automaker also provides up to $500 for shoppers with a BoostUp account, $400 for college graduates and $500 under the automaker’s military program.

Stand by your brand, or not

For owners of particular models, conditional rebates are also worth taking the time to investigate. Loyalty and conquest programs are typical conditional rebates offered by nearly all automakers. Loyalty rebates are designed to entice owners to stay within the brand for their next new vehicle purchase or lease. For example, Chevrolet likely will offer a Chevy owner a conditional rebate or subsidized lease rate if that buyer gets another one of its vehicles.

On the other hand, you can profit by jumping ship. A conquest rebate is given, for example, by Ford to a customer trading in a competing make, such as a Chevrolet, Toyota or Honda. The amount for both varies by automaker. For instance, Hyundai is offering $1,250 to current and previously registered owners and lessees on qualifying Volkswagen 2.0-liter TDI diesel vehicles purchased or leased in the United States before September 18, 2015.

Conditional rebates can vary by region, too. For example, an automaker might target only AARP members residing in Florida or pickup truck owners in Texas. A rebate offered during a local auto show is another example, usually limited to persons residing in a specific county or counties. A conditional rebate might be limited to specific vehicles identified by a vehicle identification number, VIN.

Do your homework

Before walking into the dealership, Korner said shoppers should go to the automaker’s website, input their zip code and determine the retail and conditional rebates. Also they should check out Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) or AutoTrader (autotrader.com) for price, rebate and product information. “They should do a worksheet to determine the vehicle’s price,” he said.

After gathering the information at home, Korner suggests heading to the dealership and getting the dealer’s best deal, while waiting until the dealer’s final offer to announce all of the conditional rebates for which the shopper believes he or she qualifies. 

Korner said he was contacted by a car shopper who negotiated a lease. The shopper wanted to know if he was getting a good deal. Korner input the shopper’s zip code number on the automaker’s website and quickly discovered an additional $2,500 rebate was listed on the automaker’s website that the dealer did not include in the deal.

The shopper had not checked the automaker’s website beforehand. With this information, the shopper contacted the dealer, notified him of the rebate, and was able to get $2,000 out of the $2,500.

Fighting the funnel

Korner said during interviews with personnel at numerous dealerships he discovered that “dealerships don’t do a very good job of educating their sales people about what incentives are available. Typically, through the sales process, it all goes to one person and that is the person who controls all the incentives.

“They want everything to go through almost like a funnel process so that they have control over the trade-in allowance, what credit they can present back to the customer, the terms, that sort of thing, and what incentives they are going to allow to be used on a particular deal,” Korner explained. The bottom line, he said, is that the shopper should price out the vehicle on the automaker’s website to determine all the retail and conditional incentives available before entering the dealership.

The upside of conditional rebates is that they can be combined with retail rebates to reduce the cost of purchasing or leasing a new vehicle. The downside is that although a buyer might be eligible for most or even all of the conditional rebates listed on the automaker’s website, manufacturers often limit which conditional rebates can be combined with the retail rebates for the purchase or lease of a new vehicle. This is why in the earlier example the shopper didn’t get the full $2,500 rebate.

“Some dealers don’t believe in really being forthcoming about everything that is there because their philosophy is if I give them all of the $2,500 upfront, that is the new starting point for negotiating. If I give that all to them now they are going to want that plus another $1,000,” Korner said.

A rebate’s raison d’etre

Samantha Goot, national incentives manager for Toyota Motor North America, said the conditional rebate is a tool that’s employed “as a way to help our sales by generating traffic, typically within a specific demographic. We take this a step further by adding a condition of specific vehicle models or series [loyalty and conquest money], but the concept remains the same. There are certain customer segments or demographics that respond well to rebates.” 

Goot said Toyota decides what groups receive conditional rebates by first determining “how the organization matches our customer base and what products may be best for that segment. Each of these conditional rebates is determined on a case-by-case basis, listening to the needs of our dealers and their customers. As for how the rebate is started with an organization, i.e. whether we approach them or they approach us, it is typically a combination of both.”

Most auto manufacturers operate in much the same way when it comes to rebates. If a maker feels it can move the sales needle by applying cash or other discounts to selected groups, it will do so. That can mean money in your pocket…if you take the time to look.


 

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