'Clunkers' program drove up car sales


POSTED: Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The federal government's CARS, or “;cash for clunkers”; program, drove droves of deal-seeking drivers into dealerships.

“;We have sold 189 vehicles”; through the program, said Stan Masamitsu, president of Tony Hawaii Automotive Group Ltd.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called CARS an unprecedented success and a boon for car dealers, automakers, scrap yards and financial institutions.

LaHood predicted that at its end, “;700,000 to 800,000”; vehicles will have been sold, “;most of them fuel efficient,”; replacing gas-guzzling cars and trucks.

The top five sellers have been the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Toyota Camry and Hyundai Elantra.

In addition to burdensome regulations, one problem for dealers has been slow and in some cases no reimbursement checks, though the program began last month.

Tony Hawaii's dealerships have received only four reimbursements “;in spite of the fact that we've had very few submissions rejected for missing or incomplete documentation,”; Masamitsu said.

Dealers had submitted 625,000 vouchers totaling $2.58 billion as of early yesterday—when the program's Web site broke down, preventing dealers from filing reimbursement claims. That prompted officials to extend the deadline twice, to a time that was unspecified, but the extension was to equal the duration of the CARS Web site outage.

An extension was “;crucial,”; Masamitsu said.

Hawaii's new-car dealers had requested reimbursements totaling $5,731,500, according to U.S. Department of Transportation figures through Friday. Smaller amounts were requested by dealers in Alaska, the District of Columbia, Guam, Montana, Puerto Rico and Wyoming.