November 12, 2009

7,400 trade in clunkers

Enticed by the Cash for Clunkers program, Dick Guthridge unloaded a 1996 Ford Aerostar in his business' fleet of vehicles for a more fuel-efficient Ford Transit Connect.

Enticed by the Cash for Clunkers program, Dick Guthridge unloaded a 1996 Ford Aerostar in his business' fleet of vehicles for a more fuel-efficient Ford Transit Connect.

"The one we had got like 7 to 8 miles per gallon," said Guthridge, co-owner of Guthridge/ Nighswonger Corp., a general contractor in Wichita. "Now we're getting like 23, 24 miles per gallon."

A painter for Guthridge/ Nighswonger is driving the Transit Connect, previously only sold overseas. The painter loves it, Guthridge said of the white, narrow and tall vehicle.

Guthridge plans to replace more of his fleet but admits that the Cash Allowance Rebate System — commonly called Cash for Clunkers — was what got him thinking about trading in the Aerostar.

"I wouldn't have done it without that," he said. "Geez, it saved us $4,500 plus now we're seeing the benefits from it."

Consumers received rebates of $3,500 to $4,500 depending on what they traded in and bought as part of the program.

In Kansas, 7,400 vehicles were traded in under the program, including 2,025 in Wichita, according to data The Eagle analyzed from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Statewide, the vehicles had an average 161,337 miles on them.

The average miles-per-gallon rating for trade-in vehicles was 15.5. The average mpg for vehicles purchased was 24.2, data showed.

Twenty-two Kansans traded in vehicles that got less than 15 miles mpg for those that got 50 mpg, all of them Toyota Priuses.

In Kansas, 595 F-150 trucks were traded in. The most popular vehicle purchased was the Ford Focus, at 359.

In Wichita, the F-150 also was the most popular vehicle traded in, at 173. The most popular vehicles purchased were the Hyundai Elantra and Suzuki Grand Vitara, each at 106.

Les Eck, president of Rusty Eck Ford, which had the highest number of Cash for Clunkers transactions, said that his dealership sold a lot of Ford Focuses and Fusions.

"We ran out of Focuses and Fusions, basically," he said.

A while into the program, "people realized that trucks would qualify as well, so trucks started selling," he said.

As for whether the program had much of an environmental effect, an Associated Press analysis found that the single most common swap — which occurred more than 8,200 times — involved Ford F-150 pickup owners who took advantage of the government rebate to trade their old trucks for new F-150s.

They were 17 times more likely to buy a new F-150 than a more fuel-efficient vehicle such as a Toyota Prius. The fuel economy for the new trucks ranged from 15 mpg to 17 mpg, an improvement of just 1 to 3 mpg over the clunkers.

Eck hesitated a bit when asked about the environmental impact, saying he didn't want to get involved in politics. "It brought a lot of people to the market who wouldn't have come ordinarily. It brought people who had been sitting on money for a long time."

He likened Cash for Clunkers to programs that reward consumers for buying high-efficiency appliances.

"This was a program that benefited the consumer," he said. "It did get some old cars off the road."

Cindy Duckett of Wichita traded in a 1996 Cadillac Seville that got "maybe" 14 mpg for a 2009 Hyundai Elantra, which is getting between 25 and 30 mpg.

Duckett said she received a $4,500 rebate under the program. So did a daughter still at home who traded in a 2000 GMC Jimmy that was getting about 15 mpg.

"For us, it's a great deal," she said. "We had it (the Cadillac) for sale by owner. When this came along, we knew we could get more out of it this way than just selling it outright."

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