Friday, August 21, 2009

Auto buyers have last weekend to cash in clunkers

August 21, 2009 7:31 AM

The Obama administration plans to end the popular $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program on Monday, giving car shoppers a few more days to take advantage of the government incentive, but at least one local auto dealer doesn't think there will be a last-minute rush of buyers looking to unload their gas-guzzling, smog-belching jalopies.

The Transportation Department said Thursday the government will wind down the program on Monday at 8 p.m. EDT. Car buyers can receive rebates of $3,500 or $4,500 for trading in older vehicles for new, more fuel-efficient models.

"It's been a thrill to be part of the best economic news story in America," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "Now we are working toward an orderly wind down of this very popular program."

According to Jim Crook, owner of Santa Barbara Chrysler Jeep Dodge, the project has wound down on its own, and its final weekend will not produce a spike in sales.

"I don't think it's going to do anything," he said. "If they were going to (take advantage of) it, they've already done it."

Walter Alfaro, general manager of Perry Ford Lincoln Mercury, sees things differently.

"It's impacted our business very positively," he said. "I know it will affect our business this weekend; I think the response is going to be overwhelming."

Through Thursday, auto dealers nationally have made deals worth $1.9 billion and are on pace to exhaust the program's $3 billion in early September. The incentives have generated more than 457,000 vehicle sales. Administration officials said they have reviewed nearly 40 percent of the transactions and have already paid out $145 million to dealers.

Administration officials said applications for rebates will not be accepted after 8 p.m. EDT Monday and dealers should not make additional sales without receiving all the necessary paperwork from their customers. Dealers will be able to resubmit applications after the deadline.

President Barack Obama said in an interview Thursday that the program has been "successful beyond anybody's imagination" but dealers were overwhelmed by the response of consumers. He pledged that dealers "will get their money."

Mr. Crook said he sees the wait for this reimbursement as a major downfall of the program.

"We haven't been funded from the government," he said. "That's the biggest negative."

According to Mr. Alfaro, the program "has put a lot of people in a position where they're looking at what they own," and how it relates to doing "the right thing for the environment."

News-Press Correspondent Morgan Hoover contributed to this report.

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