Cooking the Books on Cash for Clunkers

From CNN via NRO:

NEW YORK ( "” What are people trading their clunkers in for? It depends on who you ask.

The government's results showed small cars as the top choice for shoppers looking for Cash for Clunker deals. But an independent analysis by disputed those results, and showed that two full-size trucks and a small crossover SUV were actually among the top-ten buys.

The discrepancy is a result of the methods used. uses traditional sales measurements, tallying sales by make and model. The government uses a more arcane measurement method that subdivides models according to engine and transmission types, counting them as separate models.

For example, the Ford Escape is available in six different versions including two- and four-wheel drive and hybrid versions. The government counts each version as a different vehicle using guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency. Only the front wheel drive, non-hybrid version made the government's top ten list.

The Ford Escape crossover SUV, instead of being the seventh-most popular vehicle under the program, as the government ranked it, was actually the best seller, according to The government pegged the Ford Focus as the top seller.

Trucks tend to be available in more variations than cars. That's because truck buyers have a wider variety of needs than car buyers, General Motors spokesman Brian Goebel said.

"There's just so many different uses for the truck, both retail and commercial, than with car purchasers," he said.

The Edmunds rankings, shown in the NRO link above, actually solve one problem for the Obama administration but create another.  The Edmunds list has far fewer foreign cars, overcoming the criticism the program has gotten (not from me!) for promoting sales of non-American nameplates.  But it creates another problem, in that most of the cars on the Edmunds list are relatively low MPG, obviating the whole point of the program.


  1. Michael:

    In my experience, the government using engine and transmission algorithms to come up with mpg leads to less fuel efficient vehicles. I was doing a 50 mile one way commute in a 94 Ford Explorer some years back and was getting 17mpg. I replaced the factory air intake box with an unrestrictive air intake filter and the factory muffler with a free flow muffler. My millage went up to 22mpg. I've done this on RX-7s, VWs, Volvos. These changes can be done on most vehicles and run $100 to $150 for the parts. And most people who can change their own oil can put these parts on.

  2. Max:

    What fascinates me is that SUVs are usually equated with gaz-guzzling environmental monsters. However, this might be true for the big SUVs and Jeeps from GM and friends, but certainly not true for European-made SUVs.
    I got the chance to try out an X3 from BMW in comparison to the Eco-version of the Golf IV. Now, I had to drive a lot of urban routes and city traffic, so this is really very competitive, because in every race on the highway the BMW would win hands down.
    But even in inner city traffic, I had to conclude that the SUV from BMW has an average consumption of 7-8 liters per 100 km and the Golf was en par with 8 l per 100 km. Now, the Golf uses gas and the BMW uses diesel, which is a lot more "eco-efficient" (due to a higher efficiency of the motor itself) as a concerned person would put it.

    So, I just don't buy it that SUVs are soo bad or can't be comparably eco-friendly, if you buy the right one.

  3. Anon:

    "...obviating the whole point of the program."

    Come on, Warren. That isn't the whole point of the program. The whole point of the program is "cake." As in "The party of cake is always in power."

    Who' against free cake?