Local car dealer sees sales double

August 21, 2009 3:15:09 PM PDT
It's almost the end of the road for the Cash for Clunkers car-buying program. The plan that rewards car owners who trade-in older vehicles for newer, fuel-efficient models will end on Monday. The Cash for Clunkers program ends at 7 p.m. Central Monday evening. That's driving car buyers to dealerships in hopes of cashing in on last-minute deals.

Car dealers across Chicagoland are bracing for a busy weekend with last-minute buyers anxious to grab between $3,500-$4,500 of government cash. The program has been so successful, some dealers pulled the plug Thursday night, in part because Uncle Sam has been slow to pay.

Donald and Raelene Barnes had no intention of buying a new car, but this was an offer too good to refuse.

"We have 177,000 miles, so it's up there, but not worth much. Probably kept it for awhile. It was running real well," said Donald Barnes.

Nonetheless, they are parting with their Ford Windstar Minivan. The Barnes are joining nearly a half-million others who have bought new cars in the last month under the government's Cash for Clunkers program.

"We were up to 1 o'clock last night, 1 a.m. delivering cars," said Mike Ettleson, Hyundai dealer.

Ettleson owns two dealerships in west suburban Countryside where he has seen sales double. Last month, his Hyundai store delivered 106 vehicles. In just the first half of this month, they've sold more than 100. Ettleson says he is not worried about a steep drop-off in sales now that he has ended the offer.

"I don't think we pulled a ton of business forward. I think these are people, who knows, if they would have ever bought a new car. Maybe they were going to buy a used car," Ettleson said.

Out back, a graveyard of discarded cars. Ettleson's dealership has submitted 150 claims in the clunkers program and been reimbursed for just one so far. That means the government owes this dealer $600,000.

And then there's the matter of the $3 billion taxpayers fronted for this summer sale.

"I'm concerned about debt and what it might do to the future generations, but I'll give my grandkids a couple of bucks, let them pay it off that way," said Donald Barnes.

Some of the big auto dealers, like Hyundai and GM, are actually making up for the government reimbursement delay by fronting the cash themselves. Dealers have to pay it back by September 1. But there is a lot of carrying cost for these dealers, which is why some have decided to end the offers early.


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