Business & Economy

Local auto dealers respond to end of Cash for Clunkers

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New car dealers got a brief grace period from the federal government on the popular Cash for Clunkers program. They still had to sell new cars in exchange for the clunkers by 5 p.m. Monday afternoon, but now dealers have until 9 a.m. Tuesday morning to submit the required paperwork. KPCC’s Brian Watt reports.

Brian Watt: No car dealer will complain about the customers who’ve flooded their lots to cash in on Cash for Clunkers. But very few will say they’re pleased with the way the government has run the program.

Terry Miller: I hate to whine when we’re selling cars.

Watt: Terry Miller is general sales manager at Galpin Ford in North Hills.

Miller: We’ve done at all of our franchises nearly 1,000 clunker deals, so it’s hard to whine about that, but it’s just the paperwork process that really has been a little cumbersome.

Watt: As Miller spoke with KPCC’s "AirTalk," the government Web site that dealerships use to submit cash-for-clunkers claims had crashed – not for the first time. While the site was up during the weekend, the business staff at Galpin worked night and day to input every 20-to-30 page claim. The big-volume dealership also ramped up its sales force.

Miller: We had every sales person, every manager, every person that washes cars, every receptionist. We had everybody here this weekend, because we had a very big weekend. I just think if we can get through this and the government works with us on this paperwork process, then I think everybody wins.

Watt: The government began to work with dealers when it allowed them another 16 hours to submit the paperwork. At South Coast Toyota in Costa Mesa, the back office processors got a weekend head start to meet that deadline.

Sales reps there stopped making cash for clunkers deals last Thursday night. Co-owner Paul Lunsford said he’d worried the federal program would run out of money. Still he said that while it lasted, it was good for consumers and dealers – even if the government required some red tape.

Paul Lunsford: Just trying to get all the mechanisms in place to give out 3 billion bucks is more work than I think they had envisioned.

Watt: Lunsford said the program’s sparked his thinking about ways he might attract more customers into his showroom.

Lunsford: Cash for Clunkers showed if you can get a little more than your car’s worth or in some cases a lot more than your car’s worth, people will take advantage of that and they’ll buy something. So you know we’re gonna kinda take a little bit of the money we made throughout this program and perhaps give some of it back in the form of paying too much for the trade.

Watt: Cash for Clunkers proved that dealers, and buyers, can respond pretty fast to the right incentive. Dealers like Paul Lunsford and Terry Miller hope the government will similarly step on the gas to reimburse millions of dollars for their participation in the program.