Cover Story: Cash for clunkers

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Congress considering a proposal that could boost car buying, improve road safety and the environment.  It's called "cash for clunkers."  And many people are behind it, including Charlotte billionaire Bruton Smith.  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson spoke to Smith about it for our Cover Story.

What is the "cash for clunkers" and how would it work?

The bill being debated in Congress would give you up to 45-hundred dollars if you own a gas guzzler to use toward purchasing of a new, more fuel-efficient replacement.

Bruton Smith's been in the car business for 40 years.. an industry in freefall since last fall..

In 2005, nearly 17 million vehicles were sold in the U.S.  This year-- the industry's on course to sell just nine million.

But incentives, Smith says.. to get people to trade up.. could be what the doctor ordered.

"There are so many that benefit from this," he says.

The goal is to get buyers to ditch their gas guzzler for new fuel-efficient cars.

Under the "Cash for Clunkers" proposal.. buyers would be incented to buy a car that gets 22 miles a gallon or better.

A voucher for 3-thousand-500 dollars if the mileage improvement is at least four miles a gallon over the old car.

Vouchers for 4-thousand-500 dollars if mileage improvement is a 10-mile a gallon improvment.

Under the proposal being debated right now in Congress.. you could buy a foreign or domestic car.

"We are really for it," says Cindy Mynatt, owner of Ben Mynatt Chevrolet Cadillac in Gastonia.  "We think it's going to be very beneficial to us.. and we're basing it on what we've seen happen in Germany.. that it's been so successful there."

A similar program in Germany boosted car sales there by more than 20-percent.

The government's getting behind it because the health of the auto industry is so vital to the country.

Providing jobs... to automakers, suppliers and dealers.  And because it boosts the government's tax base.. from sales tax on cars sold to personal and corporate income tax.

Added benefit of the program-- putting on the road vehicles which use less fuel.. emit less pollution.. and lead to cleaner air.

"I think a lot of people would love to drive clean cars," says June Blotnick, executive Director of Carolinas Clean Air Coalition.  "They want to do something for the environment. A lot of times they just can't afford to buy a clean car."

Incentives would make it affordable, say supporters.. and lead to newer, safer cars on the road.

Under the current deal.. it's capped at one-million cars or trucks sold.. the program.. if Congress agrees to it.. will run for just one year.

Says Bruton Smith, "It would just be fantastic for a person that's driving a very bad vehicle.. car or truck and when they are able to get into a new vehicle."

There's money in the stimulus package to finance "cash for clunkers"..

The incentive program is part of a broader energy bill being debated in Congress..

One key lawmaker hopes to have it out of his committee by end of the month.. so you're going to be hearing more about it soon.

The incentive plan apply to trucks too.  You can get vouchers up to 45-hundred dollars for buying a light-duty truck.

More details...

Consumers would trade in their old vehicles and receive vouchers worth up to $4,500 to help pay for new cars and trucks with greater fuel efficiency.


For Passenger Cars:  Minimum fuel economy for new vehicle.. 22 miles per gallon city and highway combined.

For a $3,500 Voucher.. mileage improvement of at least 4 mpg.  For a $4,500 Voucher.. mileage improvement of at least 10 mpg.


For Light-duty Trucks:  Minimum fuel economy for new vehicle.. 18 miles per gallon city and highway combined.

For a $3,500 Voucher.. mileage improvement of at least 2 mpg.  For a $4,500 Voucher.. mileage improvement of at least 5 mpg.


For Large Light-duty:  Minimum fuel economy for new vehicle.. 15 miles per gallon city and highway combined.

For a $3,500 Voucher.. mileage improvement of at least 1 mpg.  For a $4,500 Voucher.. mileage improvement of at least 2 mpg.