Geisking Public Relations - Public Relations Specialist
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'Cash for Clunkers' Program Boosting Car Sales in Area

Local auto dealers Friday were bracing for what they hoped would be a big second sales weekend under the federal government's popular "Cash for Clunkers" program -- even as some nursed growing worries and wondered when they'd see their promised payments from the government.

"For all the cars we've sold (under the program), we haven't actually gotten any money back yet," said Monica Winkler, senior marketing manager for Zimbrick Motors in Madison. "It's definitely been good for sales, but we're being cautious," she added. "We're always meeting to try to figure out how much money is left (in the program). That's the hardest thing to determine."

Most auto dealers locally and across the country resumed sales Thursday night and Friday under the program, newly flush with $2 billion in federal funds.

Known formally as the Car Allowance Rebate System, or CARS, it ran through its first allocated $1 billion -- originally expected to last as long as Nov. 1 -- in barely a week's time after launching July 27.

The new $2 billion is expected to last no longer than Labor Day, dealers said, though some question whether new car inventories will match demand, given the program's popularity.

"We're hearing inventory is an issue or will become an issue," said Allen Foster, general manager of Smart Motors in Madison, where the dealership had sold 151 new vehicles through Friday afternoon under the program.

"We ourselves have cars left now, but probably most dealerships will run out before the program runs out of money (again)," Foster said. "Because there was such a big increase in car sales at the end of July, that really depleted inventory all across the country."

Designed to spur sales and get some gas guzzlers off the road, the program gives buyers discounts up to $4,500 when they trade in a less fuel-efficient, older vehicle for a new one.

Dealerships deliver the new vehicles to customers at the discounted rate and then must register the sale with the government to be reimbursed for the price breaks.

But few dealers have reported actually receiving any money yet from the government for registered sales, Winkler said, after continuing problems with lock-outs and freezes of the heavily used dealer portions of the program Web site, along with uncertainty over how long the money will last.

At Smart Motors and Zimbrick, managers finally scheduled some employees to get the needed data entered by working overnight hours last weekend -- from about midnight to 7 a.m. -- when the Web site was less busy.

"Finally after two long nights with a dedicated team, we were able to do it," Foster said, noting access to the site since then has improved. "We're really grateful for the program," he added. "It's been fabulous for business, and it's been fabulous for customers."

"People are very interested in it," Winkler agreed. "And the program is taking a lot of those people and putting them into more fuel-efficient cars."

Mileage improvement through the program on average has been 9.6 miles per gallon, according to the latest government data.

Through Wednesday, program officials also said 83 percent of the trade-ins have been trucks, while 59 percent of the new purchases were cars.

Cars and trucks turned in under the program have tended to be domestic brands, dealers said, with some foreign models.

In the most complete list locally, Smart Motors reported taking in a wide range of clunkers, including more than 40 Fords, some 20 Chevrolets, 17 Jeeps, 16 Dodges, 9 Mercurys and smaller numbers of Cadillacs, Chryslers, GMC trucks, Lincolns, Nissans, Plymouths and Toyotas, along with one Kia, one Oldsmobile, one Pontiac, one Lexus and one Audi.

Top 10 new vehicles purchased under Cash for Clunkers:

  1. Toyota Corolla
  2. Ford Focus FWD
  3. Honda Civic
  4. Toyota Prius
  5. Toyota Camry
  6. Hyundai Elantra
  7. Ford Escape FWD
  8. Dodge Caliber
  9. Honda Fit
  10. Chevrolet Cobalt

Top 10 trade-in vehicles:

  1. Ford Explorer 4WD
  2. Ford F-150 Pickup 2WD
  3. Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD
  4. Jeep Cherokee 4WD
  5. Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan 2WD
  6. Ford Explorer 2WD
  7. Chevrolet Blazer 4WD
  8. Ford F-150 Pickup 4WD
  9. Chevrolet C1500 Pickup 2WD
  10. Ford Windstar FWD van

Data provided by the government's Car Allowance Rebate System.

Karen Rivedal, Wisconsin State Journal

Smart Motors 

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