Cash for Clunkers ends, cash for appliances coming soon

The $3 billion "Cash for Clunkers" program officially ends today, having helped generate at least 625,000 new car sales. Hoping to repeat this success, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced that $300 million in stimulus money will go toward cash incentives for consumers to buy energy-efficient home appliances:

Beginning late this fall, the program authorizes rebates of $50 to $200 for purchases of high-efficiency household appliances. The money is part of the broader economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year. Program details will vary by state, and the Energy Dept. has set a deadline of Oct. 15 for states to file formal applications. The Energy Dept. expects the bulk of the $300 million to be awarded by the end of November. (Unlike the clunkers auto program, consumers won't have to trade in their old appliances.)

"These rebates will help families make the transition to more efficient appliances, making purchases that will directly stimulate the economy," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement announcing the plan. Only appliances covered by the Energy Star seal will qualify. In 2008, about 55% of newly produced major household appliances met those standards, which are set by the Energy Dept. and Environmental Protection Agency.

Replacing old appliances can significantly reduce a household's energy use and utility bills, so this seems like a good use of stimulus money. However, some analysts are skeptical that the new program will be as successful as "Cash for Clunkers":

"The cash-for-clunkers (program) had a discernible value proposition for the consumer, because he knows how much his (clunker) is worth," says [Sam] Darkatsh, the Raymond James analyst. "With appliances, there is no trade-in. You can walk into Home Depot and get a great deal on a home appliance any time you want one. Why would it drum up sales now?" Laura Champine, an analyst with Cowen & Co., agrees. "I'm not sure if it will be as powerful as cash for clunkers because there is something compelling about that $4,500 discount," she says. "Also, a new car is more fun than a new dishwasher. So I'm not sure if it will be as much of a driver, but any driver is welcome right now."

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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Another $2 billion for Cash for Clunkers

President Barack Obama signed a bill on Friday allocating an additional $2 billion to the to the Car Allowance Rebate System, more commonly known as Cash for Clunkers. The money will come from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (the economic stimulus bill approved in February). The Senate approved the bill by a 60-37 vote on Thursday night.

I liked Senator Tom Harkin's idea to put income limits on this program, but the Senate needed to pass the same bill that cleared the House in order to keep Cash for Clunkers going during the summer recess. If the Senate had approved any amendments to the House bill, the funding would have been delayed until September.

The Senate vote went mostly along party lines, but four Democrats joined 33 Republicans in voting no: Claire McCaskill (who had been criticizing the program), Pat Leahy, Ben Nelson, and Mark Warner. Seven Republicans joined 53 Democrats in voting yes: Lamar Alexander, Kit Bond, Susan Collins, Bob Corker, Sam Brownback, Olympia Snowe, and George Voinovich.

I'm pleased to learn that most consumers who have taken advantage of this program have traded in a "clunker" for cars that get significantly better mileage. (Click here for lists of the most popular vehicles traded in and the most popular purchased with Cash for Clunkers vouchers.) The way Congress wrote the bill, people could have traded in SUVs and trucks for similar vehicles with only minimal improvements in fuel economy.

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