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Program aims to get driver into fuel efficient vehicles



Published: Mon, June 22, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

Program aims to get driver into fuel efficient vehicles

“Cash for Clunkers,” the buyer incentive plan approved by Congress last week isn’t for everyone. Basically, it will only be of advantage to people whose current trade-in is worth less than $4,500 and gets less than 18 miles per gallon. And buyers have to be in the market for a new fuel efficient car.

But its a program that everybody in the Mahoning Valley can be enthusiastic about, because anything that spurs the sale of fuel efficient cars will have a beneficial effect on the Lordstown General Motors plant, where Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s are produced.

The Cobalt and G5 automatics are rated at 23 or 24 mpg city; 32 or 33 mpg highway. Manual transmission models get 22 or 25 mpg city and 35 or 37 mpg on the highway. The EPA average for Lordstown products, based on 45 percent city and 55 percent highway, ranges from 25 mpg to 29 mpg.

Of course there is no guarantee that today’s clunker owners will be tomorrow’s Cobalt drivers. There was no way to write a buy-American provision into this legislation. A similar program in Germany resulted in a majority of the new cars purchased being imports.

U.S. manufacturers are simply going to have to be aggressive in marketing their products and winning over buyers.

The cash received for clunkers is in addition to any other buyers incentives provided by the manufacturers or bargains offered by local dealers.

End of the road

One cautionary note, if you’ve developed a sentimental attachment to your clunker, know that it won’t be going to another owner who will give it a good home. It will be going directly from the dealership to the scrap yard. One of the objects of the program is to spur vehicle sales and give the economy a boost. The other is to get older gas-guzzling, carbon-spewing models off the road.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that the majority of auto emissions come from older vehicles that are not designed to meet later emissions standards, even when running at their best. A poorly maintained older model can emit more pollution than a dozen new cars.

The clunkers bill provides $1 billion for the auto sales program from July through November, although details and implementation won’t be worked out until early August. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the there will be enough money to spur 250,000 sales. The incentives are $3,500 or $4,500, depending on a number of factors.

Because the vehicles will be scrapped by the dealers, the program will be of no advantage to buyers with high-value trade-ins. The buyer will be getting the $3,500 or $4,500 payment in lieu of any trade-in value.

And perspective buyers can forget trying to pull off a fast one by running to the junkyard for a trade-in vehicle. The buyer must have owned the trade-in for at least a year and the car, truck or van must be in running order.

But anyone who has, say, a 10 year-old gas guzzler with a trade-in value of $1,000, might be able to do more than just dream about buying a new car.

More details about the program will be coming out of Washington and from a dealer near you in coming weeks.


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