Cash For Clunkers: A Shining Example of How Government-Run Programs Work

Joan McCullough, the incomprable market analyst at East Shore Partners, has a great riff about the government managing health care.  If you were on the fence about this issue, McCullough will shove you over to her side with her description of how the "Cash For Clunkers" program is going:

Hey. Are you sure you really want the government runnin’ healthcare? You do? One trip to any US Post Office oughta’ relieve you of that sentiment. But if that didn’t “cure you” and you need further evidence of why the last place Uncle Sam oughta’ be pokin’ his nose is up a proctoscope, how about considering the Mongolian Bluster Duck they’ve made of the cash-for-clunkers program before coming to such an ill-fated decision?

Ahem. You probably won’t believe what’s goin’ on with this puppy. Nevertheless, here goes:

We’ll start with the bottomline. There is a fixed amount of do-re-mi to be doled out by the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration). It’s $1 bil LESS $50 mil for “administration”. That $50 mil, I guess, is to pay for the 30 employees being hired by the new agency the NHTSA has created, the Office of the Car Allowance Rebate System. And also for the 200 “contractors” to whom most of the work will be farmed out.

*contractors: There is something unclear here. The press all talks about “contractors” in the plural, all 200 of them. But the text issued by the NHTSA, cited below, talks of “the contractor”, singular. I can only find reference to one contractor so far. And it’s none other than Citigroup. Perhaps Citi’s division handling the request for  reimbursements is 200-workers strong. We’ll find out eventually, I guess.

Perhaps you will be as edified as I was to learn that this new agency with the clever acronym CARS is, like “All Gaul”, divided into three parts.

Like so (highlighting is mine):

The Transaction Oversight Division which will work closely with the outside contractor NHTSA has retained to review incoming request for payment from dealers to ensure that those requests are reviewed correctly and in a timely way.

The Data Analysis and Reporting Division will review data generated in connection with the program to help ensure the system's efficiency and detect problems with the process or indications of potential compliance issues.

The Compliance Division will work to detect and deter problems related to the program and coordinate closely with NHTSA's Office of Chief Counsel when possible violations are found. It will also work with the Transportation Department's Office of Inspector General on allegations of fraud. [Ref.: This is the 136-page handbook released Friday.]

Lemme stop right now and ask you a question. Do you have a headache just thinkin’ about this bureaucratic nightmare or what? I thought so. Take an Excedrin and keep readin’.

Compounding the Bluster Duck, the program ends on November 1. Or until the money runs out. Whichever comes first. Got that? Okay. For starters, customers were comin’ into the dealerships starting on July 1 which was the official kick-off date. But the government wasn’t ready to allow any dealers to “register” with the program until July 24 which is the date that CARS finally published its 136-page handbook. Thus, right off the bat, there is a bottle-neck and a lot of uncertainty. And guess what else? They changed some of the original parameters that Congress had cobbled together.

Isn’t that amazing? Dealers had been accepting trade-ins since July 1 and on July 24, they made alterations! If you really wanna’ go nuts, go here:

Car buffs are familiar with the above website, Edmunds. On Monday, they put out a press release, part of which reads like this:

… “As if Cash for Clunkers wasn't complicated enough, Edmunds. com has learned that the qualifications are a moving target. The EPA confirmed with that last Friday the agency "refreshed" its combined mileage ratings for older vehicles and that the new data often gives potential trade-ins a higher mileage rating. learned of these changes over the weekend from consumers who had checked that their trade's mileage rating qualified for the program up until Thursday. When shopping for a new vehicle for new vehicle over the weekend, they learned they no longer qualified.” …

Isn’t that a hot, steamin’ deal from the government? J, M and J. They didn’t notify anybody. They just changed some numbers on the website. I guess you hadda’ be there when they did it or you were left in the dust. Meanwhile on balance, the major glitch goes like this:

Joe SixPack goes into the dealership and they accept his trade-in and sell him an upgrade at the discounted amount. This puts the dealer on the hook to collect the $4500 back from the government. Sounds easy enough, right? Here’s the problem: at the time the dealer passes the discount to the consumer, he does not know how much if any clunker money is still left in the kitty or if his paperwork will be rejected (some times for ridiculous reasons) or accepted … or when he can expect to get his money back.

Some dealers are already complaining that the paperwork is next to impossible to complete. That sounds about right, eh? And that given the time and the myriad of BUREAUCRATIC STIPULATIONS, there are thousands of cars that could be sold but which cannot be, owing to the frustrations of the process itself. … “"I have over $300,000 outstanding," says Gordon Stewart, who owns Chevrolet and Toyota dealerships in Michigan, Florida, Alabama and Georgia. Stewart has sold close to 80 vehicles to customers under the program. Despite many efforts, his staff has been successful in applying for rebates on only three sales. “ … [Ref.: Autonews] That kinda’ says it all, eh? 80 request for reimbursement; 3 approvals.

The government spokesperson said that there was “not a huge backlog”. However, he had no idea how many reimbursement applications were waiting in line for approval. Typical government baloney. He did promise, though, that “eventually” on the website they have set up for the dealers to register and submit paperwork, they will have a “ticker” which will show how much money is left of the $1 bil. Lemme ask you something: If you don’t know what the request pipeline looks like or the time it takes for an average reimbursement to be approved, what the heck good does it do to signal how much money is left in the kitty?

Last, lemme lay this one on you; consider it the “icing on the cake”:

Also on an as/of basis, the government is now demanding as follows:

… “Dealers will have to remove the engine oil from the crankcase, replacing it with a 40 percent solution of sodium silicate (a substance used in similar concentrations in many common vehicle applications, including patching mufflers and radiators), and (run) the engine for a short period of time at low speeds (rendering) the engine inoperable," NHTSA said. "Generally, this will require just two quarts of the sodium silicate solution." … [Ref.: Detroit News]

Unfortunately, nobody so far has made any provision to pay the dealers for this work. Isn’t this hot stuff?

Are you sure you want this crew handlin’ your request for an MRI? I thought you’d come to your senses. Good show.

Pass It On

46 thoughts on “Cash For Clunkers: A Shining Example of How Government-Run Programs Work”

  1. In case you had no noticed, the government is already handling your healthcare: it s called Medicare and it is rated much higher in quality than private insurance. But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story…

  2. Read this article: The Real Reason for the “Cash for Clunkers” Suspension. The ex car salesman blog shares exactly why they stopped the program. Even reports that some sales managers are calling asking for the money back because they were denied the rebate when the final paperwork was submitted but their car was already ruined by dumping a solution in the engine. They now have no car. Scary. See:

  3. Cash for clunkers? In the UK we now have cash for windows, boilers, whatever you want. Those who don’t own stuff are subsidizing those who have stuff to destroy it and get new stuff. It is absolutely disgusting and like Dog training getting us used to Government directing our consumer decisions, funded by institutionalized theft.

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  14. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican, on Clunkers from his blog: On Clunkers debate, one point we can all agree on A big Thank you to the White House blog team for a witty and pcevrptiee account of Cash for Clunkers’ real contribution to our economic recovery. If you haven’t read about the brush-up prompting that White House response, it began with a report from that minimized the impact of Cash for Clunkers. You don’t have to look too far beyond Edmunds to find loads of support for a positive analysis of this successful program: * Ford Motor Co. estimates 30-40% of Cash for Clunkers sales were truly incremental an increase of 210,000 to 280,000 vehicles, or twice what Edmunds asserts). * Moody’s Investors Service estimated 60% of sales were incremental or about 420,000 extra vehicles. * Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, told the Detroit News’: Simply put, they [Edmunds] have misrepresented the facts, and the White House is completely justified in calling them out on it. Edmunds’ political views have tainted their usual rigorous approach to research. We believe that the incremental sales are over 500,000 new vehicles. But, let’s also not forget about the larger goal of the Cash for Clunkers program: to jump-start this economy. By that measure, the 1.7% of our 3.5% growth this past quarter attributable to the automobile industry reveals that this program has done exactly what was intended. Others agree: * George Pipas, sales analyst for Ford: They [Edmunds] missed the point. The whole purpose of the program was to provide some kind of catalyst to kick-start the economy, and by all accounts the extra production that was added this year was a boost to the economy. * Jared Bernstein, White House economist: Some sales in Cash for Clunkers were sales that would have occurred later than when they did. That’s okay, especially when you look at today’s GDP report where we are posting positive growth; we really need that growth now. Pulling sales forward is actually helpful. It’s no secret that I believe Cash for Clunkers was wildly successful. But, I will say that I like the closing suggestion of the response I read on, and I think it’s well worth sharing: Officials should take heart from the core message of the analysis: the fundamentals of the auto marketplace are improving faster than the current sales numbers suggest. That’s something I hope we can all agree on, and celebrate.

  15. I agree in general with The White House. You have to look cloesly 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, minimized 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 of the junk. More can be said The calculation practiced by is a little out of my capacity but looks like a good earthly(not for Mars) exercise.

  16. Ah, the beauty of dnrisoyteg wealth – an actually working and probably completely paid device – for the promise of a rebate on a new item for which a loan will need to be taken.At home, we haven’t instituted the same policy (no car industry of relevance), but one of our ministers mentioned that the financial crisis was beneficial for the health of our younger population, as it lowered the replacement rate on new-ish cars, thus making older cars less available to the young and speed-prone. I believe that the intention is that our young will be driving their very old cars (The car-pool of Norway is more aged than that of Albania, due to high taxation on new cars) until they break (hopefully in a non-accident way), and then refrain from driving.In the eternal struggle about how unregulated the market should be, I tend to vote for the market – more and more because that would remove the stupidity of the politicians from the equation, rather than just the productivity improvements.Yours,-S

  17. Scott Addison, an executive with the subbruan Washington-based Fitzgerald Auto Mall dealership chain. So what the guy is saying is that he liked the fact that Cash For Clunkers got him the sales he needed to stay in business but he doesn’t like having to fill out the paperwork that was necessary in order to make sure there was no fraud.Gee, isn’t that terrible! I’m sure that a Republican program would have had almost no paperwork and tons of fraud. Maybe he should have just opted out of the program. The demand was absolutely tremendous from his competitors! I guess they didn’t realize how terrible the bureaucracy was, huh?

  18. no, the GTO is a rebadged Monaro, it was sold in alaurstia starting in ’01, while the vehicle wasen’t sold in the states till they rebadged them as GTO’s in ’04, and technically they are BOTH rebadged vehicles. they share a chassis ( a stretched chassis mind you) with the European Opel Omega B, which was previously sold in the US as the Cadillac Catera. class dismissed

  19. Yet, it was designed by auisse automakers. American cars are made in other countries and shipped back, but you don’t see anyone saying canadian cars and crap. A Australian designed car is an Australian designed car and you have no right to take that away from them.

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