Just hearing the words “cash for clunkers” sets my temper alight. The Car Allowance Rebate System, as it was properly known, was a scrappage deal that was all the rage in 2009. In simple terms, if you had a vehicle that was less that 25 years old on the day you traded in drivable condition, and were ready to buy a new car, you could bring your old vehicle in for a purchase or five-year minimum lease of a new vehicle under $45,000 that could get at least 22 miles per gallon. You would get a $4,500 rebate plus the scrap value of the vehicle you sent to the gallows. In return, car dealerships rented giant dumpsters and broke out the brightly-colored paint markers to proudly announce that they were doing their part by taking these “clunkers” and sending them on to their death. Made me want to puke. If you want an in-depth look at what C4C actually did and didn’t do, you can check out this story that links to an Regular Car Reviews’ analysis of the program.
With vehicle sales falling off of the cliff faster than Wile E. Coyote holding a boulder thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers are looking at anything that might be a way to bail money out of the sinking ship. FCA, for example, is offering up what they are calling “Drive Forward”, which offers up an “online retail experience”, 0% financing for 84 months and no payments for 90 days on certain 2019 and 2020 models of vehicles. But in a report by Automotive News, Mark LaNeve, Ford’s vice president of U.S. marketing and sales, seems to be toying with the idea of pushing the government towards a repeat of the C.A.R.S. program. “Cash for clunkers was very effective at that time. It would be nice to think we could have something equally as effective for 2020 when we get out of this because it was a great program.”
No, LaNeve, it wasn’t. And if anything, any kind of stimulus program will be a temporary band-aid that isn’t going to help people who have been out of work, stuck at home, and frayed to their wits’ end. Not that 2020 was a banner sales year before the virus hit, but unless you were discussing replacing the family car already and just decide to strike while the gettin’s good right now, why would you buy? After this is all said and done I wouldn’t be surprised if this entire year winds up as a sales write-off. Screw it, we’ll try again in 2021. Besides, why would I be in a hurry to buy something brand-new when I don’t want to spend a lot of money, and don’t want the majority of what brands are selling right now? What would I rather do: spend about $44,000 on a Mustang GT, $46,000 on a Dodge Charger 392, or $36,500 for a properly-optioned Chevrolet Silverado, or spend that kind of money between two Fox body Mustangs, the Angry Grandpa Chrysler and my wife’s Silverado SS and still come out with cash left over?
Cash for clunkers does not need to make a return. A sellable vehicle that is more useful car and less iPod would be a hell of a step forward. This whole “If they throw away their old car, they’ll buy a new one!” mentality needs to be thrown into that huge dumpster out front. But that is probably just me, dreaming again.