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'Cash for clunkers' has area car lots hopping

Kevin Castle • Aug 4, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — “Cash for clunkers” is quickly becoming the feel-good hit of the summer for many Kingsport auto dealerships. The government-driven car incentive program has ignited consumer interest and kept local salesmen hopping.

“It has been a morale booster here. Just the amount of traffic coming onto the lot and into the lobby has put a spring in everybody’s step,” said Chris Hill, sales manager at Toyota of Kingsport, following a weekend of high customer demand.

Across town at Fairway Ford, the fact that older-model cars or trucks can be traded in for more fuel-efficient vehicles has people thinking about big-ticket purchases again, said Manager Shannon Monroe.

“These are folks that probably could afford a new car anyway, but ‘cash for clunkers’ has such a high incentive that it is just win-win for the customer. This has helped us cap a great month,” said Monroe.

CARS, the Car Allowance Rebate System, is scheduled to run through Nov. 1 and can allocate anywhere from $3,500 to $4,500 to a single customer — that is if Congress decides to infuse more cash into the kitty.

The House has voted to allocate another $2 billion to the program. The Senate will vote to extend more funds this week.

Ford announced over the weekend that it has moved more than 50,000 units in the past two months — its first positive sales increase since November 2007 — and Monroe said sales have been going extremely well.

“I have one Fusion, one Focus and one Ranger,” Monroe said about the fuel-efficient models that have moved quickly. “I mean, you have situations where people could get $300 to $500 for their vehicle, and (CARS) lets them get up to $4,500. Who could pass that up?

“I have been here seven years, and this is the least inventory we have had to deal with. We could probably sit another 50 vehicles out here right now and sell every one of them.”

Hill said his dealership has had to turn away some potential customers because of the regulations that CARS has attached to it, which is also resulting in more paperwork to process.

“We were here the other night until 2:30 a.m. processing paperwork for the government on this. It is a headache, the stack of paper that goes with it, but it has been worth it. It’s pages upon pages, and we still haven’t gotten any money back from them,” said Hill.

“When the government was making early projections, they were predicting that each dealership would get 10 to 12 sales because of the program. We’ve sold close to 40 vehicles. It has been tremendous — no other word for it. Since the downturn, this has been the best thing to come along.”

One drawback has come in the form of a directive sent out by the National Automobile Dealers Association that told its member dealers not to close on any more CARS-affiliated deals until formal extensions are approved, according to the New York Times.

Some dealers are finding only marginal success in getting onto the government-run Web site to record CARS sales, with one dealership reporting it has only to log 25 percent of its sales, the report said.

The CARS Web site, www.cars.gov, posted a message Monday morning saying that the program was still active.

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