'Cash for Clunkers' program spikes vehicle sales


POSTED: Friday, September 25, 2009

The “;Cash for Clunkers”; program put 1,850 new vehicles on Hawaii roadways in just under a month, according to the Hawaii Auto Outlook, prepared for the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association.

The new vehicles get an average 9 miles per gallon better gas mileage than the clunkers that were traded in, according to national figures.

Hawaii's total new retail car and light truck registrations were up in August from August 2008 by 9.2 percent, exceeding the national increase of 1.1 percent.

The 3,686 vehicles sold in the month, with and without the program, topped the average 2,769 sales a month projected for 2009 by Hawaii Auto Outlook earlier this year.

In Hawaii, 22.3 percent more cars were registered in August than a year ago, while registrations in the light truck category dipped 3.4 percent as buyers sought cars with higher miles-per-gallon ratings.

Japanese makes outsold all others in Hawaii, racking up 2,443 sales, up 10.2 percent over last August.

Korean brands such as Kia and Hyundai enjoyed the largest percentage increase, 47.8 percent, selling 204 vehicles compared with 138 a year ago.

Japanese and Korean car makers both have manufacturing facilities in the U.S.

“;We had an incredible August,”; said Bill van den Hurk, president of Aloha Auto Group Ltd., which has Kia and FUSO truck dealerships on Oahu and Maui and in Hilo.

His dealerships ran out of several models, and new shipments did not come in until last week, as the program coincided with its shipper's annual two-week dry-dock period.

Aloha Auto Group sold 122 Kias in August, slightly more than the 99 that appear in the Hawaii Auto Outlook report and better than average monthly sales of 100 to 110 vehicles of a year and a half ago, he said.

Kia sales doubled, increasing by 110.6 percent, more than any other make, though the 21 Audi sales over last August's 11 also represented a 110 percent increase. Sales of the smart car also doubled August-to-August, to two sales from one.

On the minus end, sales of the Hummer brand, noted for guzzling gas, augured in, falling 88.9 percent; Land Rover sales plummeted 71.4 percent; and Lincoln sales tanked by 64.7 percent in Hawaii.

Of Aloha Auto Group's 122 sales, 68 were clunker deals. It has been reimbursed for 65 and may have a chance at two more reimbursements as the government has extended the claims deadline for some cases.

The program's burdensome and tedious paperwork was “;a nightmare”; for dealers, “;but it did give us a good August,”; van den Hurk said.

Now, however, “;we're back into reality world,”; and sales are back down.

In Hawaii no category of vehicle saw a year-to-date sales increase, and van den Hurk expects more low times with state employee furloughs and layoffs set to take effect, as well as the impending more-than-1,000 percent increase in unemployment taxes he must pay per employee.

“;It's a killer. I don't know what we're going to do,”; he said.

“;I've been in the car business 45 years,”; and he has seen the gas crunch of the 1970s, the “;financial nightmare”; of the 1980s and the “;'90s' turmoil, but I've never seen anything like this,”; he said. “;All we can do is hope now.”;


Hawaii new retail car and light truck registrations:

August 2009August 2008Change*YTD 2009*YTD 2008Change
Light trucks1,6551,713-3.4%11,82416,349-27.7%

* Through August

Source: Hawaii Auto Outlook