Dealers reflect on success of Cash for Clunkersby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — After four weeks, the federal government's wildly popular Cash for Clunkers program ends tonight.
During the weekend, car dealers across the country watched their lots grow empty as crowds rushed to trade in gas guzzlers after the government said that the $3 billion rebate program would end at 7 p.m. CST Monday, two weeks earlier than expected.
The program gave a sales boost to Dokmo Ford-Chrysler in Northfield. Owner Clancy Dokmo said his dealership is on the smaller side, usually selling about 20 new cars a month. But during the program, he sold about 35 cars in four weeks.
"It was a pretty good push," Dokmo said. "We, principally, were kind of low on inventory, so we sold everything we could. In fact, we're so low on cars right now, we're not going to have a real big Monday. But, it's a good day because we need to process."
Adding to the urgency, some dealers said they would stop Cash for Clunkers sales even earlier to make sure the government reimbursed them for the rebates - or because they didn't have enough eligible cars left.
As of Friday, dealers had been reimbursed for just a small fraction of the billions in sales.
Dokmo said he's confident the government will pay dealers back.
"I think there's enough of public spotlight on it that there's no way that they could not," Dokmo said. "I think their intention is to pay us. I think the intention of the program is a stimulus, to get people to buy cars, and you know what, it worked."
Nearly half a million people have taken advantage of the rebate program. It offers up to $4,500 for people to trade in their gas-guzzling vehicles for more fuel-efficient models, though some energy experts have said the pollution reduction is too small to be cost-effective.
Though short of some new models -- such as the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Nissan Altima -- many dealers were still selling as many cars as they could before Monday evening's deadline.
Standing outside one of his Hyundai dealerships in Appleton, Wis., John Bergstrom said customers traded in 100 clunkers throughout his fleet of 20 dealerships on Saturday and 100 the day before. They were his two biggest sales days during the clunkers program.
"That's about as good as it gets," Bergstrom said. "It's going out with a bang."
In all, Bergstrom said his dealerships - whose brands include Ford, GM and Toyota - sold 800 cars during the program, boosting sales 30 percent. He had to bring in extra staff to deal with the paperwork, but the sales were worth the hassle, Bergstrom said.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)