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Hyundai Gas Offer Echoes Earlier Flop for Chrysler

With gas prices rising, Hyundai is borrowing a move that didn't work out too well for Chrysler a year ago.

Hyundai is offering to lock in gas prices at $1.49 per gallon for a year, for customers who buy a Hyundai in July or August.

Chrysler made a similar offer exactly a year ago, to lock in gas at $2.99 per gallon, when gas prices were rising much higher and faster. Chrysler's offer made a splash at the time, but it got few takers.

At the time, as much as people were worried about gas prices, they were worried even more about jobs, so the Chrysler gas offer fell flat. In any case, the Chrysler offer turned out to be worthless within a few months, because gas prices fell again. By that time, Chrysler had quietly dropped the offer.

This year, gas prices are up about $1 per gallon since the end of 2008, to a nationwide average of $2.63 for self-serve, regular gas on June 30, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

A year ago, when Chrysler made its $2.99 offer, self-serve regular gas was $4.09 per gallon and rising. However, gas fell back below an average of $2.99 per gallon by October 2008. Chrysler's offer is valid for up to three years from purchase, so maybe Chrysler's discount gas cards will be worth something again.

The other drawback to Chrysler's gas card offer was that it replaced other incentives that could have been worth thousands of dollars. Chrysler later sweetened to offer to include both the gas card and some additional customer discounts.

Hyundai's offer is different because it's at a much lower price point, and it's valid for only one year after purchase. Unlike Chrysler's gas deal, Hyundai's offer also comes on top of its other incentives, including so-called Hyundai Assurance. That's where Hyundai will take your car back if you lose your job, even if you owe more on the car than the car is worth.

Hyundai's gas offer probably won't be a game-changer, but it could get some people off the fence. In addition, Hyundai is less desperate for a hit than Chrysler was a year ago. Hyundai has a lot of other things going for it, including a lot of new Hyundai models and a good Initial Quality Study score from J.D. Power and Associates.