Hyundai, like all the other automakers, experienced a sharp drop in sales. According to the Examiner Las Vegas, Hyundai sales are down 40%. In an effort to attract buyers, the company now offers what they call the Assurance Program. Here’s a commercial that explains the program:

It’s a pretty interesting program. A company is basically saying, “If you aren’t buying a new car because you worry that your financial situation is unstable and the economy sucks and it would not be a fiscally responsible decision for you, don’t worry–we’ll let you back out if you really need to.”

This brings up what appears to me to be an economic paradox. On the one hand, for the economy to improve, consumers need to buy things so businesses, factories, and other employers can put people to work. So from that perspective, this program is good: it might give consumers the confidence to go ahead and buy a car. But as an individual, it seems like in an economic downturn it’s probably in your individual interest to cut back on spending and save money in case of job loss–unless you are wealthy enough and have enough savings to really not be concerned about the downturn. From that viewpoint, buying a car, particularly a new one, is probably a poor decision, unless it is absolutely necessary. Even with the Assurance Program, you still have made a number of months’ worth of payments, plus a down payment, and have nothing to show for it.

This might be useful for a discussion of self-interest and the possible conflicts between what is good for the group (and the individual members of it) in the long term and what is best for the individuals in a more immediate sense. Should we, as consumers, reduce our financial risk by saving as much money as we can, limiting consumption and spending as a result? Or should we increase our personal risk by participating in behavior that very well may lead to better conditions, but not immediately, and possibly not for us if we end up with fewer financial reserves to fall back on in case of a job loss? How do you convince people to do something that might be good for the group when it might not appear to be in their self-interest on a personal level? And does it matter that companies are asking individuals to take possible financial risks so the company can make a profit?

On a non-sociological note, holy crap the automakers are desperate.