Who would have thought trading in an older model for a new vehicle would generate so much buzz and excitement? Well, Cash for Clunkers did just that. CARS, an acronym for Car Allowance Rebate System, was the official name of the government program introduced last month to help stimulate sagging auto sales. It’s done; it’s over. Now what? Whether you agree or disagree with governmental policies, one thing is unmistakable: Cash for Clunkers moved the needle. It made it okay to buy or lease a new car again, or at least come into the dealership and look around. Let’s face it. Consumer need for vehicle purchases didn’t go away. We live in a car-centric universe and regardless of make, model or type of vehicle, reliable transportation is a necessity. What vanished (temporarily, we hope) was the confidence that it was okay to buy a new car or any other commodity for that matter. Having temporary ‘paper’ plates in the driveway suddenly became in fashion again. And why shouldn’t it be? Purchases large and small signal a return to normalcy and move our economy forward, right? Trading in a gas guzzler with low trade-in value for a more fuel efficient vehicle with greater safety features made sense. But the reality of what we saw was that car buyers without a clunker also returned to the showroom. Some bought, some didn’t. But what really matters is that they felt confident enough to walk through the door again. All the confusion The craziness of deadlines, website malfunctions and changing vehicle listings (first you’re in, and then you’re out) created a certain level of excitement and frenzy like we’ve never seen before. If you think it was confusing at the consumer level, look at it from a dealer’s perspective. Since the program began, it was a moving target. Changes occurred more often than Ashton Kutcher can Twitter. All things considered, we’re appreciative of the business and the good economic karma that it will continue to bring. So now it’s the morning after. The good news is that people are still coming into the showroom even without the promise of clunker cash. Life slowly resembles what it used to be like just a short time ago. No more sitting on frozen assets; people are moving around again. In retrospect, the clunker rebate program brought about some small economic changes and attitude shifts. It helped people forget the fear that has gripped our nation. It brought fresh energy and excitement to the marketplace. And it made it hip and cool to drive a new car or make a purchase large or small again. We feel this enthusiasm has the potential to carry over to every other sector of the market. Moving forward, we can all be our own best stimulus package. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll soon find ourselves on the backside of this recession. More than cars As grateful as we are for this turn of events, we’d like you to know that we’re not all about cars. Across the nation, auto dealers are typically very good citizens. We tend to be generous with both time and money helping support numerous charitable endeavors and community programs. Add to that, tax revenue generated in a community stays in that community providing significant dollars to local government coffers to help fund services, parks and other amenities. As car dealers, we’re continuing to do what we do best: building relationships with our customers. And, yes, we love the joy and excitement that we bring customers as they sit behind the wheel of their new vehicle. It becomes a personal experience that we are fortunate to take part in. We welcome you back, old friend. Cheri Fleming is co-owner of Valencia Acura in the city of Santa Clarita. She was named Business Owner of the Year by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal in 2008 and American International Automotive Dealer Association Dealer of the Year in 2006. She can be reached at cfleming@valencia acura.com or (661) 259-3000.
Cash for Clunkers: One Auto Dealer’s Perspective