DETROIT – Ford Motor Co introduced an incentive covering payments for up to a year if customers lose their jobs, joining rivals in offering heavy discounts to attract consumers sidelined by a deepening recession.

Under the program that runs through June 1, Ford is also offering zero percent financing through its finance arm Ford Motor Credit on some Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles, the company said on Tuesday.

The latest offer comes at a time when U.S. auto sales are at their lowest levels in at least 27 years under the pressure of tight credit and weak consumer confidence.

South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co has outperformed almost all major U.S. automakers so far this year, helped by a program launched in January that allows customers to return vehicles if they lose their jobs within the first year of the purchase.

Ford's U.S. sales plunged 44 percent in the first two months of 2009, compared to a market that declined 39 percent overall. Hyundai's sales rose 5 percent over the period.

Ford is the only U.S. automaker that has not sought government funding to survive the severe downturn.

Ford's two domestic rivals General Motors Corp and Chrysler LLC have relied on $17.4 billion of government loans to survive since the start of the year and are required to push for sweeping restructurings in the next months to access more funding.

(Reporting by Soyoung Kim; Editing by Derek Caney)