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House OKs More Cash-For-Clunkers Funds

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. First this hour, the rush to save the Cash-for-Clunkers program. That's the government initiative that offers rebates to people who trade in old cars for new more fuel-efficient ones. This small fraction of the huge stimulus package has proved wildly successful, so successful that it has run out of money that was supposed to last into November.

BRAND: In a moment, we'll ask how much the program has helped new car sales. First, as NPR's Adam Hochberg reports, today the House raced to pass legislation to keep the program afloat, at least for now.

ADAM HOCHBERG: Washington leaders spent the day scrambling to preserve a government stimulus program that appears to have been working too well. The billion dollars Congress originally put in the program was intended to last into the fall. But so many drivers have taken advantage of the rebate that funding is close to being depleted, after being in effect just five days. Today, President Obama expressed confidence the program will go on.

President BARACK OBAMA: We're now working with Congress on a bipartisan solution, to ensure that the program can continue for everyone out there who's still looking to make a trade. And I'm encouraged that Republicans and Democrats in the House are working to pass legislation today that would use some Recovery Act funding to keep this program going.

HOCHBERG: The legislation, which the House later approved easily, injects an additional $2 billion into the Clunker program. If the Senate passes the bill next week, consumers would continue to be eligible for rebates up to $4,500 if they buy new cars and trade in certain older ones. During today's House debate, California Republican John Campbell said the program has already led to the sale of about a quarter million vehicles.

Representative JOHN CAMPBELL (Republican, California): That is clearing inventories in car dealerships, which means car dealers will be ordering more cars. When they order more cars, plants will open up, they will be producing more cars. And people will go back to work. It is the one thing that we have done here in this Congress that is absolutely working. It is creating jobs and we want it to create more.

HOCHBERG: Indeed, many car dealers report the program has caused an unexpectedly robust sales surge.

(Soundbite of showroom)

HOCHBERG: At Fred Anderson Toyota in Raleigh, North Carolina, sales manager Sammy Hatlee(ph) walked through the showroom this morning, pointing out customers who wanted to cash in.

Mr. SAMMY HATLEE (Sales Manager, Fred Anderson Toyota): They've got a clunker. The people that were sitting here, they probably - I'm not sure where they are - they got a clunker. They got a clunker. We've got a busy place.

HOCHBERG: So busy that Hatlee says his inventory is now at a five-year low and he's having trouble keeping Priuses, Corollas and other vehicles in stock. While Hatlee originally anticipated he might sell about 15 more cars because of the program, he says the actual number of clunker trade ins has been much higher.

Mr. HATLEE: We've been so busy, it's - you can't sit down and do the calculations, but I will say we've done over a 100 of them since the program started. And I would say probably 50 of those may not have bought a car, if the program hadn't have been here.

HOCHBERG: Among the customers hoping to take advantage of it today was retired cattle farmer, Cathy Bobbit(ph). She drove to the dealership in an old Ford Explorer and was listening to a sales pitch about a Toyota Corolla.

Unidentified Man: You know the Corolla does have a (unintelligible), right?

Ms. CATHY BOBBIT: Yeah. But it's - there's still something about the way, the shape of that…

Unidentified Man: …dash.

Ms. BOBBIT: …dash.

HOCHBERG: Bobbit says the trade-in value for the Explorer is about $2,000, but the government rebate means she can get back more than double that, enough of an incentive that she and her husband decided to make a deal today.

Ms. BOBBIT: We had started kind of thinking about, it's about time for another vehicle and what do we want to do. So it, you know, this, kind of, was a little extra incentive to go ahead and do it.

HOCHBERG: At this dealership, sales people are continuing to offer Cash-for-Clunkers deals, even though the government funding may not be certain until the Senate acts. Sammy Hatlee, the sales manager, says the cars will be held for customers and they'll get their money back, if for some reason Washington fails to prolong the program.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Adam Hochberg
Based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Adam Hochberg reports on a broad range of issues in the Southeast. Since he joined NPR in 1995, Hochberg has traveled the region extensively, reporting on its changing economy, demographics, culture and politics. He also currently focuses on transportation. Hochberg covered the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, followed candidates in three Presidential elections and reported on more than a dozen hurricanes.

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