To hear the government tell it, foreign automakers and compact cars were the big winners in the Cash for Clunkers program. The Department of Transportation makes it look like consumers all wanted small fuel-efficient cars, particularly from the import brands.
But an analysis by Edmunds.com tells a very different story. It found that a fair number of Clunker buyers bought pickups and Ford came out as the clear winner in the Top Ten list. Indeed, Edmunds' analysis shows that the government came up with a bizarre way to count Clunker sales and we know now that the DOT counted sales based on the drivetrain in a vehicle, not by its nameplate. For example, the front-wheel drive version of the Ford Escape was counted separately from the all-wheel drive version. As a result, vehicles that only offer one drivetrain came out on the top of the list.
No one in the history of the auto industry has ever counted sales this way, and it's mighty peculiar why the government would choose to do so. Is there some other agenda at work?
John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.
The way that Edmunds counted sales shows a very different story from the government's numbers. In its report, Ford captured three of the top four positions. The Toyota Corolla, which is at the top of the government's list, falls to number five on Edmunds' list behind the F-150, which didn't even make the government's Top Ten. The Chevy Silverado didn't make the government's Top Ten either, but it's number eight with Edmunds.
The downside is that all around the country the media hammered home the DOT's version of events. Once again, the story is the Detroit Three got their butts kicked by the import brands.
The other story line that the DOT trumpeted is that consumers traded in their dirty old SUVs and bought fuel-efficient, front-wheel-drive compact cars. Boy, doesn't that just dovetail beautifully with the environmental message the Administration wants to send out about the success of this program? But Edmunds' analysis tells a truer story. It shows that full-size pickups and compact SUVs were popular choices in the Clunkers program.
The explanation I've been given is that the way the DOT counted sales is more in line with the different EPA weight-class categories. But that still doesn't make sense. Again, the auto industry has never reported sales by EPA weight-class.
And there are other problems with the DOT numbers, too. It shows that there were more Clunker trade-ins than new vehicles sold. Think about that a minute. How could people possibly trade in more cars than they bought?
But the biggest puzzle of all is why the Detroit Three have not said a peep about this. Presumably, GM and Chrysler are afraid to bite the hand of the government that just bailed them out. And maybe Ford is just afraid to stir the pot. But they're doing themselves a great disservice by letting this misperception go unchallenged. And if anyone needs to change perceptions, they do.
Top Clunker Sales According to DOT
1. Toyota Corolla
2. Honda Civic
3. Toyota Camry
4. Ford Focus FWD
5. Hyundai Elantra
6. Nissan Versa
7. Toyota Prius
8. Honda Accord
9. Honda Fit
10. Ford Escape FWD
Top Clunker Sales According to Edmunds
1. Ford Focus
2. Ford Escape
3. Honda Civic
4. Ford F-150
5. Toyota Corolla
6. Toyota Camry
7. Honda CR-V
8. Chevrolet Silverado
9. Hyundai Elantra
10. Honda Accord
Airs every Sunday at 10:30AM on Detroit Public Television.
Autoline Detroit Podcast
Click here to subscribe in iTunes
Follow Autoline on Twitter for ongoing updates every day!