According to the New York Times, the federal “Cash for Clunkers” program isn’t merely popular—it’s also been even more effective at improving vehicle efficiency than its boosters had hoped:

“The statistics are much better than anybody dreamt they would be,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who, with Senator Susan M. Collins, Republican of Maine, was the author of an early version of a “cash for clunkers” bill that would have required bigger improvements. The actual mileage gain seen so far, she said was not due to the details of the law but “the good judgment of the American people.”

She appeared with Ms. Collins, who said she and Ms. Feinstein had been promised by Senate leadership that if the program were extended, tighter mileage rules would be considered. But, Ms. Collins said, vehicles being purchased under the program would go an average of 9.6 more miles per gallon than those being turned in, which she said was a 61 percent improvement.

Clunker - flickr user SuperterrificAs I read the numbers, the average clunker being traded in got about 15.7 miles per gallon, and the average new vehicle got about 25.3 mpg.  Over a typical year’s worth of driving, that’s a savings of about 288 gallons of gas—or roughly 3 and a half tons of carbon dioxide per clunker.

I’m not sure if the cash for clunkers program is a particularly cost-effective way of reducing carbon emissions.  But the success of the program is certainly a good reminder that significant reductions in CO2 emissions are within easy reach—and that, given the right incentives, consumers have quite a hankering for efficient cars.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Superterrific under a Creative Commons license.