After slow start, most call $3B program a success

Larry Clark said the month-long “Cash For Clunkers” program did what it was supposed to do: bring buyers into automobile dealers’ showrooms.
Clark, who sells the full line of General Motors brands at his Amory dealership, said the program “did its job, all in all.”
In the program, customers could get either $3,500 or $4,500 for their trade-in to a more fuel-efficient cars, trucks and even SUVs.
As of Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it had paid or approved for payment more than 670,000 vouchers valued at more than $2.82 billion.
Of the $3 billion allotted by Congress, more than $2.85 billion was used up by auto dealers nationwide. Mississippi dealers requested more than $12.3 million in reimbursements. California has applied for more than $323 million.
Clark and other Northeast Mississippi dealers said submitting applications was a tedious, time-consuming process. And reimbursements were slow.
After getting complaints, the Department of Transportation beefed up its staff handling the Clunkers deals and dealers said the program moved along much smoother.
Clark said he has received payment for all 26 deals his dealership pushed through.
At Carlock Toyota in Tupelo, General Manager Mike McLelland said all but two of its 43 Clunkers deals have been paid.
“It was tough in the beginning, but we finally got it going,” he said.
Clunkers resulted in the sale of some 700,000 more fuel-efficient vehicles. In August, retail sales increased by 2.7 percent, due in large part to a 10.6 percent rise in sales by auto dealers.
Hoyt Sheffield, owner of Tupelo Auto Sales, said Clunkers was a success.
“It brought a great number of people out” to look at cars, he said. “It did what it was supposed to.”
But auto dealers admitted there has been a bit of a post-Clunkers hangover.
“There was a bit of a hangover the first part of the month, but it seems to have improved a lot,” Clark said. “One thing that the program did was it helped us get auto dealers’ inventories more in line.”
The big push for new sales depleted many car lots that were brimming with inventory. Manufacturers had to ramp up production to fill orders, which gave a boost, even if only temporary, to the auto industry.
“Everybody was out of inventory,” McLelland said. “We went down to only having 33 vehicles. But our inventory is back to where it needs to be, and now we’ve got about 180 vehicles between what we have on the ground and what’s in transit.”
And if there’s another Clunkers program?
“We’ll be ready,” McLelland said.
Sheffield also said he wouldn’t hesitate if there was a Clunkers sequel.
“I’d definitely participate again,” he said.

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal