Planet Gore

The Clunkers Compromise

The House of Representatives has its “cash for clunkers” bill and it bears only a dim family resemblance to the enviro-alarmists’ original vision of forcing Americans into smaller, greener cars. Call it the “Cash for Old Guzzlers to Buy New Guzzlers” bill. Call it reality. Call it a refreshing reminder that green dreams to remake mankind must still get by mankind’s Congressional representatives.
Democrats claimed that “Cash for Clunkers” was based on Germany’s successful “scrappage” legislation, which has given a huge shot in the arm to that country’s auto sales. But this was a lie — parroted by media outlets — from the start. Germany’s program offers a trade-in on any car older than nine years in exchange for any vehicle the customer wants. Democrats, on the other hand, saw an opportunity for social engineering.
Last month, New York representative Steve Israel (D., Greens) offered legislation requiring that eligible vehicles for sale get a whopping 25 percent more than current fuel-mileage rules, or 34 mpg for cars and 28 mpg for trucks. In effect, this meant that only high-mpg hybrids would qualify for purchase, a fact that left out almost the entire GM fleet and all of Chrysler’s.
Enter Ohio representative Betty Sutton (D., Unions) — backed by the Michigan delegation — with a proposal broadening the definition of fuel-efficient cars to those that meet current CAFE mandates (27 mpg for cars; 22 mpg for trucks). Then enter the auto industry, which is sucking wind and thinks a scrappage program should actually sell cars.
Then stir and bake.
What emerged from the oven this week is this: Customers get a $3,500—$4,500 federal rebate (on top of similar, $4,000 dealer incentives) to trade in their old car for a new car getting just 22 mpg, or a truck that gets 18 mpg — which covers virtually everything except Lamborghinis and Hummers.
The greens got one bone: To be eligible for trade in, old cars and trucks must get less than 18 mpg, a perverse provision that will “diminish the program’s effectiveness in removing vehicles from the road,” says auto analyst Joe Baker with CSM Worldwide.
In effect, though, owners of a giant 2006 Chevy Tahoe SUV (fuel mileage: 18 mpg) can trade in for a brand new, giant, 2009 Chevy Tahoe SUV (18 mpg). Or a 1999 Ford Explorer SUV (16 mpg) can be traded for a 2009 Ford Explorer SUV (18 mpg).
The feds estimate that the clunkers program would increase sales by 1 million units, a paltry 7 percent increase over 2008 sales. Under Germany’s unlimited scrappage program, by contrast, sales have increased by 40 percent.
Despite the restricted eligibility, automakers were thrilled with the compromise because it will move new SUVs and sedans gathering dust on dealer lots — whereas initial green proposals would have moved very few.
“Anything helps,” says industry trade rep Charles Territo, who excepts the House legislation is likely to be adopted by the Senate.
Henry Payne is a writer and editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News.

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