Local auto dealer busy during cash for clunkers promotion

PAT FRIDGEN
Carroll Detrow, inventory manager for Antrim Way Honda, sits in a Chevy Blazer which the dealership took in trade, while president Steve Weaver looks on.

The CARS (Car Allowance Rebate System) program, commonly referred to as Cash for Clunkers, ended at 8 p.m. August 25. The US Department of Transportation declared the economic stimulus program a success, and credited it with a boost to economic growth for the third quarter of 2009, and for the creation of 42,000 jobs that will be sustained for some time.

Greg Weaver, vice president of Antrim Way Honda, had good things to say about the program. It resulted in 69 sales of new vehicles during the month-long incentive deal.

“It was great. It stimulated customers to come out to the showroom. It also took inefficient vehicles off the road, which is better for the enrivonment,” he said. “And the new ones are safer for consumers.”

Weaver said one-fourth of the trucks and cars brought in could have been cleaned and resold, but that wasn’t allowed by program rules. The bulk of the clunkers truly fit the category, with rust, non-working air conditioning, no airbags and other deficiencies common to older, mostly domestic vehicles.

Many of the buyers of new Hondas would not have qualified to purchase without the incentive they received from CARS, due to their credit rating, he added.

“The first week was crazy,” Weaver said of the program which was extended twice. “People were excited with $4,500 credit for a car worth nothing.”

The top sellers at his dealership were the CRV, Civic, Accord and Fit.

The program did have its headaches. Paperwork and red tape working with the government has delayed reimbursement to dealers. Most of the clunkers are still sitting on various lots around Antrim Way Honda until the funding comes through.

Staff spray-painted the word ‘Clunker’ on the sides to distinguish the vehicles from any used ones on the lots, since some actually appear to be in fine condition. One by one, the pickups, mini-vans and sedans will be driven to Triple Nickel Auto Parts on Lincoln Way West in Chambersburg. The authorized salvage facility expects to eventually collect hundreds of vehicles.

John Fields, owner of Triple Nickel, said so far only 14 have arrived because dealers won’t release them until they have been paid by the government. He  has a deadline to sell parts before the vehicles have to be crushed. He was still seeking clarity if the clock started ticking when the clunker was turned over to the dealer or when it was delivered to Fields’ business site.

The engine and components must be trashed, and Fields hasn’t yet figured out the true benefit of CARS to him. He also has a bundle of paperwork because the feds are tracking what happens to all of the parts. He understood that CARS allocated $50 million for the people overseeing the program.

Once Triple Nickel is done with vehicles, they are crushed by Newcomers Truck Parts in Waynesboro, then sent to a shredding company in Harrisburg, Philadelphia or Ohio, Fields said. There they are baled to end up at steel mills, perhaps to be reincarnated into fuel-efficient automobiles.

According to the USDOT, the most popular car models purchased were the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. The Accord and Fit were also in the top 10. General Motors sold 19 percent of the new cars, Toyota 17 percent, Ford 14 percent and Honda 13 percent.

The Ford Explorer and F150 pickup were traded in the most often. All told, nearly 700,000 clunkers are off the road. Under the $3 billion rebate system, applications totaled $2.877 billion.  The average fuel economy of the trade-ins was 15.9 miles per gallon, and the average for the new vehicles was 24.9 mpg.

Of all the consumers, 84 percent traded in trucks. As a group 59 percent purchased passenger cars.

The DOT hired 2,000 people to process the dealer applications.

Already, Weaver has seen an increase in used-vehicle sales and he expects that to continue.