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LaHood: Consumers Drooling Over Arrival of ‘Cash-for-Clunkers’ « The Washington Independent

As we pointed out last month, environmentalists are none too happy with the recently enacted cash-for-clunkers program, which grants a cash rebate up to $4,500 for drivers who turn in their gas-guzzling vehicles for more fuel efficient models. (In some cases, for barely more fuel efficient models).

But consumers, it seems, are on the edge of their seats awaiting the program’s launch. At least that’s the word from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who told Bloomberg yesterday that the government’s cash-for-clunkers Website received 400,000 hits in one week alone.

Consumers will be able to visit auto dealer showrooms as early as July 24 for credits of as much as $4,500 to purchase or lease new vehicles under federal rules now being crafted, LaHood said in a telephone interview yesterday.

“There are going to be thousands of cars sold that would’ve never been sold,” LaHood said. “This is the strongest incentive I have ever seen offered by car manufacturers. If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what will.”

LaHood’s comments came one day after the Environmental Protection Agency approved a long-standing California request to adopt stricter emission standards for the state’s vehicles — a move that will effectively force automakers to offer more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.

Yet cash-for-clunkers doesn’t exactly encourage any swift move to vastly better fuel efficiencies. Under the program, for example, drivers of 1996 4WD Ford F150 pickups (fuel efficiency of 14 mpg) could trade them in for 2009 4WD Ford F150 pickups (15 mpg) and receive $3,500 in taxpayer cash. The owner of a 1994 2WD Jeep Grand Cherokee (16 mpg) would be eligible for $3,500 with a trade-in for the 2009 version of the same vehicle (18 mpg). And consumers could trade their 1995 4WD Dodge Ram pickups (13 mpg) for $4,500 toward brand new 4WD Hummer HT3s (16 mpg).

At least Washington’s policymakers are finally coming to grips with what the program actually represents: An automaker bailout with a slight environmental component, not an environmental program that would also sell cars.

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