Washington, D.C. — ACEEE believes Congress should provide additional funds to allow the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) program to continue operating through this month’s recess despite the serious flaws in the design and implementation of the program. “This program appears to be helping lots of people trade gas guzzlers for pretty efficient vehicles, if DOT’s statements about the vehicle transactions occurring under CARS are accurate,” said ACEEE Transportation Program Director Dr. Therese Langer. “It’s more expensive than it needed to be, and at Detroit’s insistence, it offers hefty federal incentives to buy new gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs that are barely more efficient than the clunkers they replace. But by and large, consumers seem to be making this program work. They’re choosing cars that will save them money at the pump, while accelerating the nation’s transition to a vehicle fleet that’s cleaner and less oil-dependent.”
“Every gas guzzler sent to the scrap heap is a powerful repudiation of the missteps of the auto industry,” said ACEEE Senior Associate Edward Osann. “Consumers are eager to move past this legacy of oil dependency and obsolete technology. Their choices are placing the nation’s economic recovery on a more sustainable basis.”
DOT has announced that, based on the first 80,500 transactions, vehicles purchased under the program are averaging close to 10 miles per gallon better than the vehicles they’re retiring. For the most part, consumers are replacing inefficient light trucks such as the Explorer and the Grand Cherokee with efficient cars, like the Focus and the Corolla. “This shift undercuts the common wisdom that bigger will always be better in the eye of the American car buyer,” said ACEEE behavior researcher Dr. Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez.
While the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been overwhelmed by the enormous response to the CARS program in its first 10 days of operation, the agency will need to improve its administration of the program in short order. Despite requests from public interest groups weeks in advance of the start of the program, NHTSA has failed to make data on the transactions available to the public to date. “It’s unfortunate that Congress is being asked to come up with $2 billion more for this program when we haven’t even had a chance to understand in any detail what happened to the first billion,” said Dr. Langer. “Further support for this program will depend upon NHTSA’s making the record of vehicle transactions much more transparent.”