The Ongoing Mysteries of the Clunkers Program

In an article distributed by Auto Remarketing, written by Group Editor J. Reed, it recapped’s analysis of the just concluded “Cash for Clunkers” program statistics provided by the DOT. Why is this important?  As hard as we try to trust our leaders and rely somewhat upon what they say to be true, huge discrepancies keep coming out about what really just happened to the citizenry of the U.S.  It does not make me feel warm and fuzzy, that’s for sure.

So what are some of the discrepancies? Edmunds pointed out what it sees as inconsistencies with the government’s Clunkers statistics. One of the reasons the company delved into these figures is because it says there was an unprecedented wide range in analysts’ sales forecasts, with analysts’ forecasts for the month annualized sales rate at an unprecedented 4 million range. Stands to reason that someone would want to true up the numbers, right?

One of the “mysteries,” as the company calls it, is that the government release said the program took 690,114 clunkers off the road. However, apparently Edmund’s experts tracking the program found that clunker trade-ins never accounted for more than 33.4% of weekly sales. “It is mathematically impossible for there to have been nearly 700,000 new-car sales during the course of the program, given the actual sales numbers announced by automakers who should have no motive to under-report,” said Zhenwei Zhou, senior statistician.

But now that the numbers are in some of the numbers do not add up.  Apparently, one of the difficulties in forecasting the sales number was due to the midstream change in the Clunkes program, or the fact that the program’s administrators changed the rules allowing dealers to take clunker trades on vehicles that were in transit or on order. “As a result, we’re still seeing clunker deals trickle in and are yet to be counted as sales,” noted David Tompkins, senior analyst. “We expect that to continue for a few weeks. We expect about 50,000 vehicles will be delivered and counted as clunker sales in September’s sales reports.”

Michelle Krebs, Edmond’s senior analyst noted that the Department of Transportation reported on Aug. 26 that it had received 690,114 Cash for Clunker voucher applications for either $3,500 or $4,500.  As of Sept. 2, she said DOT had not changed that figure.  However, the governments own data doesn’t add up. In its Aug. 26 press release giving the supposed final tally for the program, the DOT gives the total application voucher as well as a breakout of the number of vehicles purchased by category and the number of vehicles traded in by category.

None of these numbers are the same. The overall application number of 690,114 is different from the number of clunkers the government said were turned in under the program — 685,201 — which, in turn, is different form the number of vehicles purchased — 684,941. While the differences are not huge or enough to impact forecasting, they should match. Presumably, the number of clunkers turned in and the number of vehicles purchased should be identical, which should add up to the number of applications.

So why does the clunkers number matter? From an economic standpoint, how many of the clunker trades resulted in sales that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise? Or did it merely pull from behind and pull from future naturally occurring sales. If it did produce incrementally higher sales, what was the cost per vehicle to shareholders? Even more important, sorting Cash for Clunkers data is important for forecasting going forward. Analysts, including those at, auto companies and other forecasting firms, are trying to determine, what is the true underlying demand for vehicles by retail customers, excluding the clunkers program, and what is the trajectory of vehicles going forward.

What do you think are the government’s data  Credible or not?  How can you believe in anything we are being told?  Too many questions and not any answers.  Tell us what you think.