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Crucial “Clunkers” Information Sought by Public Citizen

Aug. 4, 2009

Crucial “Clunkers” Information Sought by Public Citizen

Federal Documents Could Reveal Program’s Impact

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Because the Obama administration has not been forthcoming with key information about the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) or “cash-for-clunkers” program, Public Citizen is filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today for information needed to assess whether the program is working.

Though the clunkers program has been touted as a way to get cleaner cars on the roads while jump-starting stalled auto sales, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not provided data showing that the program has had the desired effects. In fact, the agency has not provided any specific information about the vehicles purchased or traded in.

“The public should have access to the details of the program so it can assess whether taxpayer money is being spent well and whether the program is truly helping curb auto emissions,” said Lena Pons, policy analyst for Public Citizen. “If the program is as successful as the administration claims, then releasing the information should only strengthen its case.”

After the Department of Transportation announced that its initial $1 billion in funding had nearly dried up after just one week – though this claim is based only on early reports from auto dealers and has not yet been verified by NHTSA – the House of Representatives approved another $2 billion in funding without assessing the program’s benefits. The Senate should get more information before voting to approve this additional $2 billion in funding, Pons said.

The “cash for clunkers” program drew immediate criticism from Public Citizen when it was rolled out on July 24 for its vague fuel economy benefits and high sales estimates, which did not account for purchasers who would have bought new vehicles anyway. The difference in fuel economy between vehicles traded in and the newly purchased vehicles is among the information sought by the FOIA request.

Public Citizen also wants to know the types of vehicles (passenger cars or trucks) being purchased under the program, the makes and models most frequently traded in, and the makes and models most frequently purchased. The organization also seeks aggregate data on responses to consumer surveys necessary to determine the program’s value as an economic stimulus.