DEARBORN, Mich. — Ford announced the introduction of its Advantage Plan this morning.

Similar to the Hyundai Assurance program, Ford's plan offers payment protection covering job loss for up to a year on any new Ford, Lincoln of Mercury model, in addition to the opportunity for zero-percent financing via its captive on select models.

"Consumers remain anxious about the economy and their own outlook for the future," noted Ken Czubay, vice president of sales and marketing. "We at Ford want to do our part to rebuild the faith in the marketplace by offering payment protection on every new Ford, Lincoln or Mercury vehicle for up to a year if our customers lose their jobs."

The Advantage Plan kicks off today and lasts until June 1.

Basically, the 12-month plan can provide protection of up to $700 per month. 

"Just as important is additional charity support we provide in conjunction with our local dealers, who are mindful of how nonprofit organizations are struggling during this economic downturn," he added. "Ford and our dealers have always stepped up to take an active lead role in the community, and that's why we are also including a charity element as part of the Ford Advantage Plan."

According to the company, in 2008, more than 18,000 Ford U.S. employees volunteered 100,000 hours to help people in local communities.

To continue this initiative, in April, Ford officials said they will introduce a program in partnership with dealers to assist local charities impacted by the economic downturn. More details of this will be announced in April.

Finally, the company boasted that its vehicles' quality and residual values have improved.

Ford indicated that it maintains strong residual values throughout its product lineup.

For instance, the 2009 Ford F-150 recently received a residual value award from ALG for retaining the highest percentage of its original price among 2009 full-size light duty pickups at the end of a conventional three-year lease.

The Ford Escape has a 10-point residual value advantage versus the Chevrolet Equinox after three years of ownership. Meanwhile, officials pointed out that the Ford Focus has the highest residual value of any domestic product in the small car segment.

"Ford's improvements in quality have contributed significantly to our year-over-year improvements in residual values," said Czubay.

In addition, Ford's quality is now on par with Toyota and Honda, and Ford continues to have more top safety picks than any other brand, executives boasted.

"This is the strongest product lineup we have ever offered," Czubay suggested. "When you combine these great products with payment protection, zero-percent financing and support for local charities, customers can feel confident about getting back into the market for a new car or truck."

Editor's Note: General Motors also launched a payment protection program today. For details, see the story via our Auto Remarketing Web site.