Who’s Winning the Clunker Derby?

The numbers are in

clunker-raceAccording to a list compiled by the National Transportation Safety Administration, compact cars and hybrids are top sellers in the Cash for Clunkers trade-in program. The average combined city and highway fuel economy of the top ten cars ranges from 27 to 33 miles per gallon, depending on which versions people purchased.  With gas mileage like that, you just might make it to payday without a cash advance or paycheck loan!

The four top-selling cars were the Ford Focus (27-28 combined hwy/city mileage) followed by Toyota Corolla (25-30) the Honda Civic (24-42) and Toyota Prius (46). The list includes four vehicles available as hybrids, in order of preference: Honda Civic (24-42) Toyota Prius (46) Toyota Camry (23-34) and Ford Escape (20-32).

But not everyone agrees

clunker-race-2Not everyone agrees with how the government devised its Clunkers’ rankings. Edmunds.com recently released its own sales rankings listing the Focus at No. 2, the Civic at No. 6 and the Corolla at No. 9. Pick-up trucks took up several top spots.

Release of the top sellers report came just as the debate was heating up in the Senate over whether to extend funding for the program, with some lawmakers arguing that the fuel economy requirements for the program are not strict enough. The Senate and House have now approved an additional $2 billion for the program.

Compact cars are the order of the day

clunker-race-3Under the wildly popular “Clunkers” program — known officially as the Car Allowance Rebate System or CARS — consumers who trade in old gas guzzlers receive between $3,500 and $4,500 toward the purchase of more fuel-efficient, often smaller cars. The trade-in vehicle must have a combined city and highway fuel economy rating of 18 miles per gallon or less.

Critics had feared that car shoppers would use the program mostly to buy trucks, but according to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, 83% of the vehicles traded in were trucks and SUVs and 60% of the vehicles purchased were passenger cars.

The average fuel economy of new vehicles purchased under the plan is 25.4 mpg and the average fuel economy increase from the old vehicle to the new is about 61%. In a CNN interview last week, Mike Jackson, chief executive of AutoNation, the country’s largest auto dealer chain said, “It’s crazy, but we’re seeing trucks — full-size pick-up trucks — traded in for compact cars.”

But we just can’t let the SUV go

Last month, many of the vehicles with the biggest reported year-over-year sales gains were small “crossovers” — a broad category of SUVs that includes small car-like crossover SUVs. The best-selling crossover in the Cash for Clunkers programs was the Ford Escape, number 6 on the government list, which gets much better fuel economy than large, truck-based vehicles.

The Corolla vs the Focus . . . and beyond

The Corolla and the Focus were dueling for first place under the program. Initially, the Focus emerged as No. 1 on a top-10 list of most cars sold, according to the Department of Transportation. But rankings released last week showed the Corolla had knocked the Ford car into second place.

The Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus have been top contenders in the Clunker Derby, but will their popularity outlive the new $2 billion fund earmarked for the program? No doubt the reasonable gas mileage and relatively low cost of the Corolla and the Focus helped catapult them to the top of the government list of vehicles sold under the program. The base models for both cars, before options packages, cost less than $16,000.

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