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Local auto dealers praise rebate program

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

The federal "cash-for-clunkers" program is already in need of a financial shot in the arm, but local car dealers say it has had a positive impact on their bottom lines.

President Barack Obama signed the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save (CARS) program into law on June 24. The legislation is designed to allow customers to trade in their older, less fuel-efficient vehicles and get a $3,500 to $4,500 credit toward the purchase of a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle.

According to The Associated Press, officials considered suspending the CARS program on Thursday after its popularity threatened to deplete the $1 billion allocated for the rebates.

The program will continue, said Brian Robinson, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), if the Senate votes to allocate another $2 billion toward CARS. The House has already voted to approve the measure.

The amount of credit customers can qualify for depends on the miles-per-gallon rating of the vehicle being traded in, as compared to the new vehicle being purchased, said Freddie Felton, Jr., general manager of Sons Honda in McDonough.

Felton, who recently began participating in the program, said he is still waiting to be reimbursed by the government for the vehicles his dealership has sold through CARS.

"Since July 27, we have done 25 deals under the program," he said.

Based on those 25 vehicles sold, Felton anticipates receiving about $100,00 back from the government, although he is not sure when to expect those reimbursements.

While it has boosted sales at his lot, Felton said keeping up with the rules of the program has been complicated.

Sons Honda sells an average of 65 new vehicles a month, but Felton said the dealership has sold 82 new vehicles in the past month.

"It's complicated, but it's driving sales for our dealership and our community," he said.

According to Bob Pickens, general manager of Bellamy-Strickland Automotive in McDonough, customers interested in finding out more about the program began calling almost immediately upon learning of its availability.

"We track our phone calls," said Pickens. "Our calls started going up about a month ago. The interest was there."

The number of phone calls Bellamy-Strickland received in July, he said, increased by 40 percent. In addition to Chevrolets, Bellamy-Strickland also sells GMC, Buick and Pontiac.

Pickens said the dealership has sold 15 vehicles through the program, and that sales associates report increased customer traffic because of CARS.

"There is a ton of paperwork involved," Pickens said. "[But] it's worth the aggravation."

Pickens, who has not been reimbursed yet, said that while the CARS program has been threatened by its own popularity, he's not worried about not getting reimbursed. "We feel comfortable that we'll get our money back," he said.

Felton said the CARS legislation was hastily put together, but has been positive nonetheless. "I can't say it's well thought out, [but] it's definitely boosted our new car sales," he said. "When it brings people in, excitement breeds excitement."