The numbers are in on Cash for Clunkers, and the program brought about even greater gains in fuel economy than it set out to.
The popular Cash for Clunkers program ended its run on Aug. 25, and the program is estimated to have removed nearly 700,000 inefficient vehicles from U.S. roads.
Officially known as the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), the program achieved greater fuel economy gains than originally expected, as consumers chose more fuel-efficient models than were required by the program.
In fact, the average fuel economy of the traded-in vehicles, which were crushed, was 15.8 miles per gallon (mpg), while the average fuel economy of the newly purchased vehicles was 24.9 mpg — a gain of 9.1 mpg, or 58 percent.
That figure makes sense for trade-ins of old cars for new cars, because those trade-ins earned the maximum rebate with a 10 mpg increase in fuel economy. However, analysts expected trade-ins of light trucks (sport utility vehicles, pickups and vans) for new light trucks to drag down the fuel economy gains, as such trade-ins could earn the maximum rebate with a fuel economy gain of only 5 mpg. But according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), such truck-for-truck trade-ins were less common than expected, as 84 percent of the program participants traded in trucks, but only 41 percent purchased new trucks, which means that more than half of the truck owners traded their vehicles in for a car.
The results are even starker for heavier vehicles, as 8,134 heavy work trucks were traded in, but only 2,408 new heavy work trucks were purchased, and 116,909 large pickups or vans were traded in, but only 46,838 new ones were purchased. The fuel economy of the newly purchased cars was also 19 percent greater than the average fuel economy of all new cars available in the United States.
The CARS program allowed dealers to start providing rebates to customers on July 1, even though the program didn’t officially start until July 24. The billion-dollar program proved so popular that Congress had to quickly approve an additional $2 billion for the program, which was approved by President Obama on Aug. 7.
Despite the extra funding, the funds went quickly, and the DOT announced on Aug. 20 that the program would end on Aug. 24. Dealers had until the evening of Aug. 21 to submit their paperwork, and the results demonstrate that the DOT timed it pretty well, with rebate applications worth $2.877 billion submitted to the agency, leaving only $123 million in rebate funds unaccounted for. The program proved so popular that the DOT changed the rules, allowing people to buy cars even if the dealer was sold out on that model.
According to DOT, the top vehicles traded in under the program include sport utility vehicles, pickups and vans from Ford, Jeep, Dodge and Chevrolet.
The top 10 new vehicles purchased include cars from Toyota Motor Sales, American Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motor America, Nissan North America and Ford Motor Co., with the Ford Focus and Ford Escape both making the top 10 list. The increased demand caused Ford to boost its production of the two vehicles at its assembly plants in Kansas City, Mo., and Wayne, Mich. Ford experienced year-to-year sales increases in both July and August. Toyota had three vehicles — the Corolla, Camry and Prius hybrid — on the top 10 list, and the company estimates that it accounted for nearly a third of the fuel savings achieved by the program.
Honda saw a near doubling of its sales of the fuel-efficient Fit, and the DOT notes that Honda will increase production at two plants in Ohio and one in Alabama. General Motors Corp. (GM) also experienced gains from the CARS program, attributing it to a 159 percent year-to-year increase in August sales of the Chevrolet Aveo, a 13.8 percent increase in Chevy Cobalt sales, a near doubling in Chevy Equinox sales, and a 26 percent boost in Chevy HHR sales. GM plans to increase production to restock inventories. Chrysler also credited the program with increased sales and has raised its production by 50,000 vehicles.