Cash for Clunkers wildly successful

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We know that thousands of Americans are taking advantage of the Cash for Clunkers program, so the program is helping to drive auto sales and stimulate the economy. In case you haven’t noticed, we can use some stimulation.

Beyond that, however, it turns out that the program is even more successful than originally thought when it comes to replacing gas guzzlers with fuel efficient cars.

And the Transportation Department reported that the average gas mileage of the vehicles being bought was significantly higher than required to qualify for a rebate of $3,500 to $4,500. Of 120,000 rebate applications processed so far, the department said the average gas mileage of cars being bought was 28.3 miles per gallon, for S.U.V.’s, 21.9 miles per gallon, and for trucks, 16.3 miles per gallon.

“The statistics are much better than anybody dreamed they would be,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California. The actual mileage gain so far, she said, was not due to the details of the law but “the good judgment of the American people.”

Senator Feinstein, along with Senator Susan M. Collins, Republican of Maine, was the author of an early version of a “cash for clunkers” bill that would have required bigger improvements in mileage. Their decision to express support for extending the current version of the program, at a news conference late Monday afternoon, was an important signal to other senators concerned about whether the program was doing enough for the environment.

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, an early backer of the Feinstein-Collins approach, also voiced support for an extension. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “It’s working in every way. It’s working as stimulus, it’s working to help families, it’s working to improve mileage.”

The chances are pretty good that Senate will vote this week to extend the program so that it can be signed by President Obama.

Some opponents of the program have expressed concern that auto sales will stall after the program ends, whether it ends now or in the fall after an extension. This concern is unfounded. Many people taking advantage of this program have older cars that they’ve driven for years, and many of them keep older cars for the simple reason that they are thrifty. Without this program, many of them would likely keep their old cars. With the program, they have a huge financial incentive to junk the old car and pick up a new one at a great price. Along those lines, Ford announced today that they see car sales rebounding through 2010, as pent-up demand starts to drive the market.

  

Clunker mania

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The cash for clunkers program is off to a roaring start, as Americans seem ready to purchase new cars when presented with a great deal. This is a very encouraging sign for the economy, as a boost in auto sales would go a long way towards getting us out of this recession.

The program is so popular that it’s running out of money after just one week. The House has passed a bill to add $2 billion to the original $1 billion program. The Senate will take it up next week. Senator Diane Feinstein won’t support the bill without tougher fuel standards, and John McCain might filibuster the bill in the Senate. It’s not a done deal yet.

  

Mixed reviews on the government’s cash for clunkers program

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Many are hopeful that the federal government’s new cash for clunkers program will provide a much-needed boost to the American auto industry at a time when the recession is crushing auto sales. BusinessWeek, however, calls the new program a “lemon.”

The problem with the law is that it is both underfunded and too narrow to generate a spike in showroom traffic. Standard & Poor’s (MHP) says the most it will do is boost sales by 3% for the year; a similar German program pushed sales up 30% a month this year. “This is a waste of taxpayers’ money,” says analyst John Wolkonowicz of Boston research firm IHS Global Insight (IHS). “There won’t be enough people who can take advantage of it.”

First off, the feds have approved only $1 billion for the program. That could help fund the purchase of just 250,000 cars—not much more than a week’s worth at current sales levels—between August, when the program likely will start, and Nov. 1, when it ends.

Plus, the law makes little sense for most passenger-car owners. The government will cut checks of $3,500 to $4,500 to dealers so they can buy old cars that get 18 miles per gallon or less and then sell the owner a more fuel-efficient replacement. But most cars on the road get more than 18 mpg, so they won’t qualify. And many that are thirsty enough to warrant the deal are luxury models worth a lot more than $3,500 to $4,500. If a consumer can sell the old car for more than what the government will pay, there’s no reason to take advantage of the bill, says Wolkonowicz.

Yes, there are plenty of old cars that do qualify. But many are 10 years old or more, says Edmunds.com CEO Jeremy Anwyl. People driving cars that ancient often buy used, and even with a $4,500 discount, they probably won’t want to take on new-car payments during a time of economic hardship.

This is a pretty downbeat view. The article points out that the program should be bigger, but if it’s successful you can be sure that Congress and the Obama administration will push to expand it.

Reuters takes a much more positive view, pointing out that the law is spurring certain buyers to trade in old vehicles.

Having driven the equivalent of six smoke-belching laps of the planet, Tony Metzler figured his ageing Chevrolet Blazer SUV would not make a good trade for a new car. Until now that is.

With a $1 billion (621 million pounds) federal “Cash for Clunkers” program that pays consumers $3,500 or $4,500 in credit to swap ageing gas-guzzlers for new, more fuel efficient models, he made the plunge.

“It ended up being right place, right time for me,” said Metzler, 42, who traded his eight-year-old sport utility vehicle for a new Chevrolet Equinox this week. “It seemed like a good opportunity.”

The program signed into law by President Barack Obama in June offers a trade-in credit of up to $4,500 to owners of cars built since 1984, with fuel economy of 18 miles per gallon or less.

It also applies to SUV, vans and pickup trucks. Participating dealers assess the discount, apply it to the new vehicle, and then obtain reimbursement from the government. Details of eligibility are available at www.cars.gov.

Metzler, a Phoenix-valley insurance executive, had racked up 150,000 miles (240,000 kilometres) in his old SUV that averaged 17 miles per gallon. He got a $3,500-credit towards his new car, which gets a slender 3 mpg improvement.

The program, which backers hope will arrest the auto industry’s slide and sell 250,000 new vehicles this year, runs through November 1 or until funds are exhausted. It has been broadly welcomed by auto dealers across the country.

For more information on the program, check out Cash for Clunkers Facts.

  

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