After six months of secret planning, Ford, the market leader, announced 'Project Delta'. From today it is offering to replace any vehicle or provide a refund if it suffers from a persistent defect in the first year.
Customers would also be entitled to exchange a new car for any reason within the first 30 days provided it has less than 1,000 miles on the clock.
Not to be outdone, Rover announced its own 30-day, 1,000-mile exchange guarantee but threw in the added incentive of a full refund to any customer not satisfied with their car for any reason.
Ford's marketing ploy has been in preparation since last November and was supposedly known only to an inner circle of six top executives.
The company was yesterday at a loss to explain how Rover could have been working on an almost identical scheme, the details of which leaked to the press last weekend.
Ian McAllister, the chairman of Ford, estimated that the 12-month refund or exchange guarantee might result in the return of no more than 4,500 of the 450,000 cars and commercial vehicles it sells each year.
Some customers were bound to take deliberate advantage of the 30- day exchange deal to get a month's cut-price motoring, but he was confident the number would be small.
Although both car makers were anxious yesterday to hail their respective initiatives as a first, the idea was, in fact, pioneered by Jaguar whose American customers have been entitled to a free-of-charge exchange within the first month since last year.