Foreign cars top ‘Clunkers’ buy list

Bob Moon Aug 5, 2009
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Foreign cars top ‘Clunkers’ buy list

Bob Moon Aug 5, 2009
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Kai Ryssdal: Some of the early sales figures from the Cash for Clunkers program are in. Think of them as a referendum on Detroit, with American carbuyers doing the voting through their purchases. To get the biggest rebate they can, a lot of customers are going for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Ford Focus tops the list. But foreign companies dominate the Top Ten. Our senior business correspondent Bob Moon has more.


BOB MOON: Besides Ford’s Focus, four foreign brands round out the top five on the government’s list. They are the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry. Which raises the question: Is that the American auto industry that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was talking about this week on MSNBC?

RAY LAHOOD: I don’t think there’s any question about it. This is the lifeline that will bring back the automobile industry in America.

Despite their mostly foreign brand names, nearly all the top-selling “clunker replacement” vehicles are built in North America.

Marc Cannon is a spokesman for the country’s largest automobile retailer, AutoNation. He argues that the foreign-dominated list doesn’t necessarily bode ill for America’s troubled car companies.

MARC CANNON: I don’t think it’s a vote against Detroit. Remember, in the 1990s Detroit’s market share was 70 percent; today, it hovers in the low 40s. So really what you’re seeing is the buying habits of the American public today. I think when it’s all said and done, the market share is going to look very much like the sales ratio did before this program.

At the consulting group CSM Worldwide, auto sales analyst George Augustaitis wonders if consumer preferences are really all that different. He says the $4500-per-vehicle incentive was targeted specifically at improving fuel economy. But general sales figures on Ford’s market-leading pickup might tell a different story.

GEORGE AUGUSTAITIS: If you could have purchased a 2009, 2010 F-150 that got 18 miles to the gallon and still got your full $4500, people would have done it. That series was the Number One-selling vehicle in the month of July.

Indeed, even Transportation Secretary LaHood admitted this week where his preferences lie. He told MSNBC he has his eye on a four-wheel-drive Ford Explorer.

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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