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DOT Still Won’t Release Numbers on ‘Cash for Clunkers’ « The Washington Independent

Even as it’s releasing frequent updates on the money being spent under the hugely popular “Cash for Clunkers” program, the Obama administration is still refusing to reveal details about what cars are being scrapped and sold.

The Department of Transportation released figures Wednesday indicating that, as of yesterday morning, more than 316,000 new vehicles have been sold under the program, at a cost of $1.33 billion. The DOT has also released occasional top-10 lists of the best-selling models. But requests for more detailed information have been met with silence.

DOT spokeswoman Patricia Swift-Oladeinde said Wednesday that the agency simply hasn’t crunched those numbers.

Yet Lena Pons, policy analyst at Public Citizen, doubts that claim. “They have the information,” Pons said. “They have to have it to reimburse the dealers.”

Indeed, if the DOT has the data to compile top-10 lists, it surely knows also which models fill slots 11 through the rest. But, despite several Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the data (including one from Public Citizen), the administration is refusing to give up the details.

Those details could have significant consequences. When the Senate last week passed a $2 billion extension of the program, several powerful lawmakers threatened to fight the additional funding unless the guidelines were altered in favor of stricter mileage standards. But Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) — the three who led the push for better fuel efficiency rules — were convinced those changes were unnecessary after the DOT released summary data claiming that drivers were buying up small, highly efficient cars.

“What we’ve learned is that American consumers are choosing vehicles with much higher fuel efficiency than is required,” Feinstein said in a statement announcing her change of heart.

Yet there are indications that the program isn’t promoting the vehicle sales the DOT has claimed. Indeed, although the agency says the 10 best-selling vehicles under cash for clunkers are all small cars, a separate study by Edmunds.com, an auto analysis group, found that both the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado trucks have crept onto that list. The New York Times this week quoted an anonymous White House aide conceding that the program is one “in which you trade old clunkers for new clunkers.” Dealerships are reporting sales of Cadillac SRXs and Hummer H3Ts. And even Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that, given the chance, he’d use the program to scoop up a Ford Explorer SUV, the 4WD version of which gets just 15 miles per gallon.

Considering the popularity of the program — both with consumers and the auto industry — there’s certain to be pressure on Congress to extend the program yet again if the extra $2 billion runs out quickly. Some lawmakers have hinged their support for additional funds on first getting a better understanding of what the program is doing. They can’t know the answer, however, if the administration continues to withhold the trade-in figures.

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