BYLINE: By CHUCK BARTELS, Associated Press Writer DATELINE: LITTLE ROCK BODY: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is launching a new venture in which customers can sign up for roadside assistance packages at the retail giant's stores. The company announced Thursday it will work with TracFone Wireless Inc., to offer 24-hour roadside assistance through 2,600 stores. For about $50 annually, customers will be covered for five family members in the United States and Canada. A spokesman for the AAA auto club, which has 50 million members, said it perceives no threat from the move by Wal-Mart, in light of the variety of travel services it offers. Last month, Wal-Mart announced it would launch a test program for selling used cars. TracFone spokesman Scott Brand said the service will tap a segment of the market missed by AAA. "We're definitely filling a niche that was left open," Brand said. "A lot of the extras people may not need or want, we don't include those in there, so people can have an affordable and reliable service." TracFone products are already in Wal-Mart stores, Wal-Mart spokesman Rob Phillips said, and selling the roadside assistance is a good fit. TracFone has an agreement with roadside assistance provider, Road America, to aid stranded customers. "For the first time, a customer can come into a retail outlet and purchase roadside assistance off the shelf," Phillips said. The product has been in automotive departments in some Wal-Mart stores starting last month, and reached all of the discounter's outlets Thursday. "What we think our customers are going to like very much is the convenience and value of being able to purchase roadside assistance at a retail outlet," Phillips said. Jerry Cheske, a spokesman for AAA's national office in Orlando, Fla., said the 100-year-old company has averaged 1 million new members and renewals annually since 1984. "It's become sort of vogue for other companies to get into the roadside assistance business. We still by far offer more ... to our members than any other organization does," Cheske said. Cheske noted that AAA annual membership dues start at $34 for an individual, and rates for expanded service vary among regional clubs. Customers buying the Wal-Mart package activate the membership via the Internet or by calling a toll-free number. TracFone's roadside assistance provider, Road America, currently serves 3.5 million members nationwide. The firm has been in the motor-club business for 24 years, offering service in the United States and Canada. TracFone Wireless sells prepaid wireless service. The roadside assistance includes flat-tire changes, towing up to 30 miles, battery jump-starts, fuel delivery, vehicle lock-outs and accident assistance.