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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.

Once again, the story is the Detroit Three got their butts kicked by the import brands.
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?

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

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm not going to say anything because I am too afraid of helicopter gunships flying down the Potomac from DC and blowing my house up for speaking against the administration.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I believe that you're thinking of the last administration.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Perhaps not, but Mark Lloyd, Obama's "Chief Diversity Officer" at the FCC has already laid out a plan to use "diversity" and "community" challenges to broadcasters to accomplish the same ends as a "fairness doctrine": kill conservative talk radio.

        Lloyd has been pretty open about his opposition to conservative talk radio and his desire to use government control to reign in political free speech he opposes. In Lloyd's own words:

        "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio"

        "Forget the Fairness Doctrine."
        • 5 Years Ago
        As close to DC as I am at the moment I am afraid of any administration doing it.
        • 5 Years Ago

        I believe this administration would be more likely to pass the "Fairness Doctrine". Oh yeah and it has nothing to do at all with fairness, look it up.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I tried to make a clunker deal, but was stymied by the reluctance of the dealers (three), who would not give me a car without a check for $4500.00 to be held until the government gave the dealer the money. (If ever). I also found many instances where the dealers would not sell a car they could get thru dealer swaps when their lot did not have any "qualified" cars. Why didn't the government just give the consumer the money and leave dealers out of it? Income tax credit anyone? This whole "clunker" thing is going to be another example of government not having a clue as to how to effectivly run ANYTHING. PERIOD. I just can't stand it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        well Poppy,

        1) his statement was the dealer he was working with would not initiate the swap, not the other way around (that might make sense)

        2) how is the consumer going to fudge the paperwork? dealer is completing and submitting the paperwork based on a vehicle that the consumer is bringing based on a list available to all involved. TEchnically, the consumer is not part of the C4C transaction so why should they provide the collateral?

        dont worry, I dont think we'd hire you if you cant keep track of the details.
        • 5 Years Ago
        poopy, you're none too bright. The $4500 isn't collateral - once you drive away and register the vehicle, it no longer can be "taken back" and sold as new. If the gov't fell through, the person would have had to pick up the tab.

        And the dealers would get their money, no doubt. So they had no need to hold a check.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Link to the edmunds.com article?
      • 5 Years Ago
      First off the idea to count by drive-train sounds like it's just to manipulate the numbers so it doesn't look like so many four-wheel drive vehicles were sold. Silly to try to do that. Second, the sales to clunker ratio maybe just be a paperwork issue at the moment as many dealers have not "released" the new cars until they get paid by the government.

      I actually like the clunker idea however I think it only went half way and left a lot of legitimate clunkers on the road. Here's a copy of a letter I wrote to President Obama a while back.

      Dear President Obama,

      First I'd like to just say thank you for all you are doing.

      I am a firm believer and potential candidate for the Cash for Clunkers program and feel it has many good things going for it. However, I'm also very much into being green and have spent quite some time with EV's over the years and think getting the most out of a vehicle's life is a good thing. Which is why I want to share something that happened to me yesterday that made me rethink the CFC program.

      I have been hit hard by the economy as well as by some unexpected business expenses so I am not able to take advantage of the CFC program yet and took my 95 Chevy Tahoe to the mechanic to get a new radiator put in. When I went to pick it up there was gentleman, his name is John, with his family who wanted to ask me if I'd be willing to sell him the truck. He was almost begging as he is without a vehicle and needs daily kidney dialysis in Boston. I explained my situation and told him that unfortunately I would have to keep the truck for a while. He offered me $3,000 cash to buy it on the spot. I had to politely refuse but I promised I'd let him know if I were to sell it. This got me thinking.

      The CFC is a great program but in only goes half way. There are many people who have very old and unsafe cars and trucks that would like to participate but cannot because they cannot afford a large monthly payment. Also, many people turn in vehicles that are in great condition and have many good years of life left on them. Instead of destroying these vehicles, what about doing a second tier CFC program where someone like John can get themselves a much better and safer vehicle than they had and pay a price that is attainable. Say the price of the vehicle is set at $2000. This money goes right back to the Government and can be put directly into the CFC program to either cover half it's costs or extend the program. The end result is the really old, unsafe vehicles get taken off the road and replaced with better cleaner vehicles and people like John get a shot at having a decent car to get to the hospital everyday. The added bonus is this will create jobs for people in the small garages and body shops who will maintain the recycled vehicles. A win win for everyone.

      Thanks again for all you are doing in these trying times and best wishes to you and your family.

      Sincerely Yours

      Derek A. G. Jones

        • 5 Years Ago

        Srsly man. WTH?
        • 5 Years Ago
        In principle, there is something wrong with taking money out of my pocket so someone else can get a cheaper car. Even more disturbing is borrowing money to give someone a cheaper car. Don't taxpayer's end up paying more in terms of interest to repay the $1.85 TRILLION deficit. That's just one year, sure GWB racked up a $400 Billion deficit, but come on.

        $1,850,000,000,000! That is bad! And wrong! What the heck is the matter with people that are ok with this?!

        In my opinion, it would be cheaper just to let all the auto workers be laid off and give them welfare. Either way, it comes out of Taxpayer's pockets, but less waste and overall less cost by just sending people a check instead of this nonsense. Hey Derek, can I borrow your credit cards for a while with permission/authorization to use them as I desire. I promise I will be responsible. (rollseyes)
      • 5 Years Ago
      Oh puh-leez . . . First of all, why would the gov't use numbers that favor foreign brands and risk the robotic backlash from anti-CARS operatives? Secondly, the program used MPG figures as qualifications, and MPG varies by drivetrain, so it does make sense to break out the sales numbers by drivetrain.
        • 5 Years Ago
        thank you for having a brain
        • 5 Years Ago
        You are off base on the MPG claim.

        Say, and for the sake of the example I am making up fuel economy numbers, that the F-150 RWD V8 gets 20MPG and the AWD V8 gets 18. I'm not going to go look up the real numbers for the sake of the example.

        The CARS rules stated that to receive the full $4,500 rebate for a truck purchase your new truck had to be 2mpg more efficient than your old one.

        So lets say two people each drive a mid 90's truck that gets 15mpg. Both F-150's, despite the different powertrains, qualify for the full $4,500. Under the DOT's method of calculating sales they are separate vehicles and not just lumped into one "F-150" category.

        It is completely irrational to break the vehicle sales down by powertrain. If both new F-150's met the mileage requirement and were sold under CARS, shouldn't they be counted towards F-150 and not F-150 Type A and F-150 Type B?

        Yes, CARS is based of mileage requirements, and different powertrains can affect whether the car/truck being traded in will qualify, but if the vehicle sold did qualify for the rebate under CARS then all sales, regardless of powertrain, should be lumped into one category for the vehicle.

        Lets use the DOT's thinking towards regular cars. The Civic only offers one powertrain across most of the gas models (lets ignore the Si and NGV and Hybrid since the vast majority of Civics sold are with the 1.8L). Mazda offers two gas engines, the 2.5L and the 2.0L. Now lets say Honda sells 100,000 1.8L Civics a year and Mazda sells 55,000 2.5L and 60,000 2.0L. The Mazda 3 would be the top selling car based off overall volume, but using the DOT's method the Civic would be number one because it sold the most cars with one particular powertrain. It is a completely asinine way to measure sales.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Agreed - thank you for having a brain.

        And I believe the gov't broke down sales by drivetrain in the past, too, not just for this.
      • 5 Years Ago

      facts and stats don’t matter much to politicians… they make it say what they wanted it to say…
        • 5 Years Ago
        I believe the saying is "lies, damn lies, and statistics"
      • 5 Years Ago
      John, John, Conspiracy? Really? You sound more like Limbaugh or Beck than a serious industry critic when you go off on this tangent.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Agree in general with The White House. You have to look closely at the PECUNIARY effects on the economy which in this case yells out positive. Our perception of the clunkers is that they simply guzzled gas, minimised the return on investment made in maintenance done on them, slowed down the traffic and therefore led to excessive consumption of time+money+energy+etc., weren't offering their drivers much of today's vehicle safety features. Every new car sold in exchange of such a vehicle generated 'additional' tax income to the state, to the federal government, sales revenues for the dealer & the manufacturer-i.e. subject to further tax revenues on the federal budget- and helped the auto industry bail-out money being funded by the borrowers at a proportion. The roads got cleared off the junk. More can be said... The calculation practised by Edmunds.com is a little out of my capacity but looks like a good earthly(not for Mars) excercise.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Once again, the story is the Detroit Three got there butts kicked by the import brands.

      Try "their".

      And I knew that the DOT counted differently, but I can't believe that trucks made the top 10 list. It just goes to show that todays trucks are pretty fuel efficient (relatively speaking).
        • 5 Years Ago
        The Focus comes in sedan and coupe form.
        • 5 Years Ago
        This conspiracy claim is idiotic. Why would the government care about how Ford likes to lump their products? Ford counts sales of all their F-series trucks together so they can proclaim it the best selling truck in America, but that doesn't mean the DOT does.
        And since the Focus is only available in FWD I have no idea how the idiots at Edmunds managed to obtain a different count.
        • 5 Years Ago
        And as conspiracy theories go this one sucks. Wouldn't the government conspire to make it seem like most of the money went to the Big 3 instead? Why would they waste time trying to purpose make it look like more money went to Toyota and Honda?
        BTW who even cares which is the #1 model, this isn't a sales pissing contest, why is Edmunds treating it like it is??
        • 5 Years Ago
        Why would the focus change spots on the list? It has only one drivetrain, right? Or are there 2-valve & 4-valve options? Also it says Ford Focus FWD. They are all FWD. Can anyone shed some light on this one? Apparently I'm a bit dim!
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'll kick off the speculative soon to be list of [conspiracy] theories: Perhaps the powers that be want our industry to collapse? Consider this-how many times has our government lied to its people?
      Before I get labeled as another tin-foil hat nut job, I challenge any would-be antagonists to read up on one of the following: Operation Paperclip, Operation Northwoods, Codex Alimentarius, or even this stupid H1N1 swine flu nonsense.

      I dare 'ya.
        • 5 Years Ago
        government doesn't lie, its the people in it, that we elected, that do. and they lie a lot.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Stephane Dumas, that article more-or-less says that the following killed the Detroit automakers:

        1 US minimum wage too high
        2 US regulations for health and safety too strict
        3 US civil rights require too much diversity in work force
        4 US regulations for pollution too strict
        5 US fuel standards too high
        6 US corporate tax rate too high
        7 UAW got too many concessions for workers

        Those are of course relevant, but that article makes it seem like those are the only reasons for Detroit's problems. Notably absent from the article was any mention of:

        - The 1970s oil crisis
        - Detroit's reliability issues in the 1970s and 1980s
        - Increasing executive bonuses
        - An explanation of the success Asian and European companies have had producing cars at US factories (even though they are also subject to items 1-5 mentioned above).

        For a better overview of how/why imports became so popular at the expense of Detroit's offerings, read The Reckoning ISBN 0688048382.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You might be more closer to the truth then you taught, I spotted this article dated from November 2008 about the subject http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=29586#continueA
      • 5 Years Ago
      If there are (at least) two ways to look at the data, why doesn't the AMERICAN government use the way that helps the AMERICAN companies look better???
      • 5 Years Ago
      So is there a link to this Edmunds analysis? I'm not seeing one anywhere and google is no help at all.
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