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No Cash for Those Clunkers?

Dealerships are still waiting for the government to reimburse them for the cash for clunkers program.
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Nearly a month after the cash for clunkers program ended, many of the car dealerships that participated are beginning to think they got the raw end of the deal. As of last week, the government's auto-revitalization program had paid out just over 10 percent, or a little under $200 million of the $1.7 billion still owed to participating dealers, according to HIS Global Insight data.

"That's an awful lot of money for small business to be floating to the federal government interest free," said Rebecca Lindland, the director of automotive research at IHS Global Insight, a Massachusetts-based economic and financial analysis company. "All we have been hearing is horror stories about reimbursement."

Officially known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, cash for clunkers offered between $3,500 and $4,500 to people who traded in an old car for a brand new one with a higher fuel economy. The intention was to increase vehicle sales and stimulate the economy with consumer cash. And it did. Within a month, the program burnt through $3 billion.

"Cash for clunkers was not a long term fix," Lindland added. "It got people back into the showroom, people who may not have been in a showroom in a year. And it showed that consumers still have money."

Economists have predicted that Americans would be willing to open their wallets if they knew they were getting a great deal. Cash for clunkers provided an opportunity, an incentive, said Adam York, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities, "and that's nothing to sneeze at." The program also added a couple of 10ths of a percent to the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.

For the small business car dealerships around the country, however, the pressure is still on. President Obama addressed the issue on August 20th in a radio interview. "I understand dealers want to get their money back as soon as possible...and they will get their money, but we've got to process it properly..." Since then, however, the President has not publicly addressed the issue of repayment.

According to Lindland, people are having "unnecessary sleepless nights thinking that they are not going to be reimbursed."

Last updated: Sep 14, 2009




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