In what might turn out to be one of the biggest games of "he said, she said," in the history of the world, Maritz Research, an automotive market research company, is claiming that the government's Cash for Clunkers program actually boosted auto sales by much more than previously thought. Maritz is crediting the program with 765,000 new vehicle sales, higher than the 677,000 claimed by the government, and much, much higher than the 125,000 sales that Edmunds.com famously quoted. In fact, it's more than double the Department of Transportation's own estimate of 346,000 sales.

Maritz surveyed 36,000 new car and truck buyers who bought their vehicles during the time Cash for Clunkers was in effect, between July and August of 2009. The company figures a full 542,000 sales came from people who hadn't planned on buying a car otherwise, spurred by the government program. Maritz also includes 223,000 people who came to dealerships after hearing of the program, and even after they discovered that they didn't qualify, bought anyway.

Perhaps even more interesting were the findings on how the program affected future sales. It was believed by many that Cash for Clunkers might have just sped up sales in the short term, advancing sales that would have naturally occurred in future months or years. "The results provide strong empirical evidence that CARS did not impede future sales," said Maritz vice-president David Fish, "Vehicles were sold to people who don't normally buy them."

According to Maritz's findings, Cash for Clunkers buyers tended to be long-term car owners. Maritz says that nearly 80 percent of trade-ins had more than 100,000 miles on them and that 50 percent were more than 10 years old. Better than 60 percent of buyers told the pollsters that they plan on keeping their new cars as long as possible, meaning that many of the people who took advantage of the program came from non-regular customer pools.

The Maritz report could be used to support additional incentive programs like Cash for Clunkers in the future, but there are already detractors. For its part, Edmunds.com is already saying that there is a big difference between the analysis of sales figures it performed in its own study and Maritz's conducting of a survey that could contain flawed or leading questions. The issue is certainly not settled yet.

[Source: CNN Money | Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty]