More ‘cash for clunkers’ program welcomed by dealers, customers

PORT ANGELES — North Olympic Peninsula residents have embraced the government’s “cash for clunkers” program, and local car dealers are smiling all the way to the bank.

“Customers absolutely love it,” said David Price, owner of Price Ford Lincoln Mercury in Port Angeles.

“I think I feel lucky,” said Soonja Spees of Port Angeles, who took advantage of the program to trade in her 1991 Toyota pickup for a Ford Escape from Price’s lot.

She got the highest amount possible, $4,500 for her trade-in.

“But for those who can’t take advantage of the program, I feel bad about it,” she said.

“Not everyone can afford a new car.”

On Friday, President Barack Obama approved another $2 billion to extend the program until Labor Day.

The program’s first $1 billion ran out in about a week.

Nationwide, an estimated 250,000 people have taken advantage of the program.

Trade-in money

Officially called the Car Allowance Rebate System — or CARS — the program allows customers to trade in their gas hogs for $3,500 to $4,500, with the money applied toward the cost of new, more fuel-efficient models.

The goal of the program is to stimulate the economy while getting older, and more likely to be polluting, vehicles off the road. All trade-ins are required to be junked, getting them off the road for good.

“I think they’re happy to get out of less fuel-efficient cars and into something safer and more fuel-efficient,” said Chris Koenig, general manager of Koenig Chevrolet Subaru in Port Angeles.

Koenig said that, although he lacked an exact count, the dealership had sold “dozens and dozens” of cars in the last week.

“I think it’s a great thing for customers, for the auto industry and for the overall economy. It’s stimulus money that’s working well.”

With the additional funding in place, the program is expected to run through Labor Day.

“The challenge is that we will run out of stock by the end of August,” said Howie Ruddell, owner of Ruddell Auto Mall in Port Angeles, which is licensed to sell new GM products: Pontiac, Buick and GMC, as well as Hyundai vehicles.

Sales tax boon

Dan Wilder Sr., owner of Wilder Auto in Port Angeles, noted that the Toyota dealership sells many high gas mileage vehicles.

“I bet we are selling more than anyone else,” he said.

He likes the program for three reasons.

“With the state and county revenues in dire straits, this will be our biggest sales tax deposit in months,” Wilder said.

Additional savings

Price said that the rebate program combined with dealer offers can save customers as much as $9,000 on a new car.

“They are replacing old cars, which are costly to maintain, with new ones with factory warranties and extremely high gas mileage,” he said.

While Price declined to give actual sales figures, he said Ford vehicles that are selling well under the program include the Focus, Fusion, Escape, Ranger and F150.

“All of them have been extremely popular.”

While the program has boosted his bottom line, it’s increased desk time for the sales staff at the Ford dealership. The dealerships have to file all the paperwork with the government to be reimbursed for the rebate.

“From a sales perspective, it’s excellent. From an administrative perspective, it’s time-consuming at best,” he said.

Wilder also said he has had to hire additional staff to meet the demands.

Pickups traded in

Koenig is seeing a lot of old pickups traded in under the program. The vehicles purchased cover a wide range, he said.

While car dealers are known for their negotiation skills, Koenig noted that the amount of the rebate is not up to the individual dealer.

The government has set up a Web site to help consumers compare the fuel consumption of their current car to new models, at www.fueleconomy.gov.

Hyundai advanced funds

Ruddell was able to start offering trade-ins under the program before it started, as Hyundai advanced CARS funds to dealers.

He said the dealership has processed about “three truckloads” of vehicles, all headed for salvage.

The Ruddell lot is also seeing a lot of pickups coming in, as well as many mid-size SUVs.

Ruddell said that’s not surprising, considering how popular SUVs were.

“There was just more of them to begin with,” he said.

Additional staff

Wilder feels the cars taken off the road will improve gas mileage overall.

“People are buying high-mileage cars,” he said, citing the Toyota Prius, Fit and Versa.

“I’m not a big government program person, but I can see the benefits.”

________

Features Editor Marcie Miller can be reached at 306-417-3550 or marcie.miller@peninsuladailynews.com.

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