Corolla Earns Top-Selling Spot in 'Clunkers' Program

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 5, 2009; 11:32 PM

The Toyota Corolla bumped Ford's Focus out of the top spot as the number-one selling new car under the U.S. government's popular "Cash for Clunkers" program, according to figures released Wednesday afternoon by the Transportation Department.

Since the government kicked off the program July 24, dealerships across the country have had swarms of consumers come trade in their gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient, new vehicles. But the incentive proved so successful that the program almost ran out of the $1 billion that Congress had set aside for the effort in mid-June.

Congress is considering whether to put another $2 billion into the program, in hopes that the money will last through August. The Senate is set to vote Thursday on legislation to provide the additional funding. Senators will consider seven amendments, mostly from Republicans, before taking a final vote, congressional aides said. The House approved the measure last week, and the White House backs the extending the program.

Transportation officials said that 184,304 trades had occurred as of Wednesday, eating up $775.2 million of the $1 billion originally appropriated.

Forty five percent of the new car sales are from the Big Three American automakers. General Motors was the most popular choice, with 18.7 percent of the buyers choosing one of its vehicles, followed by Toyota with 17.9 percent and Ford with 16 percent. After the Corolla, the top-selling new vehicles are the Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Toyota's Prius and Camry. Of the vehicles that aren't made by the Big Three, transportation officials said their preliminary analysis shows that "well over half of these new vehicles" were made in United States.

Of the trade-ins, the government said more than 80 percent are trucks, with Ford's Explorer and F150 pickup topping the list. The average miles per gallon of the new vehicles is 25.3, compared with the trade-ins that average 15.8 miles per gallon.

The program has been plagued by troubles. Consumers were confused as to which cars qualified as the government changed the rules. And dealers said they spent hours trying to log into the government's Web sites to put in paperwork on the deals they'd done. Transportation officials say they have resolved those issues by improving the computer system's capacity and beefing up contracted staff to help run the program.

Under the program, consumers can turn in their clunkers for a voucher worth up to $4,500 toward a new vehicle.

On Wednesday, some dealers said they continued to have strong sales under the clunker program but others said they ran into problems collecting their government payments.

Mario Murgado, president of Brickell Motors in Miami, said he's had seven applications of the 47 he's submitted to the government rejected as clunkers, mostly because of paperwork problems.

"It's organized confusion," he said of the program, noting that the government hasn't explained things clearly to consumers or dealers. "You've got to dot all the i's and cross all the t's."

Staff writers Paul Kane and Perry Bacon contributed to this report.

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