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.
As 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.
This is about the dumbest piece of journalism I have ever read. “you’re not sure if the cash for clunkers program is cost effective but reduction in emissions are still within easy reach???? it CAN’T be easy if it is not cost effective. This weak reporting only makes our job more difficult. I’m all for conserving resources. It makes basic sense. But this disjointed logic is just fuel for the opposition.
Duh..The car you have pictured is from 1973 or 1974 and does not qualify as it is older than 25 years from date of manufacture (Not model year).
One thing I wonder is if the people trading in the clunkers will drive more because it is now much less expensive to drive per mile (assuming $3/gal gas, 15.7 mpg is 19c/mile and 25.3 mpg is 12c/mile)
A better rundown of the numbers is at the New York Times today. Apparently, the average clunker gets 15.8 mpg, and the average new car sold under the program is 25.4 mpg.Laurel—I suspect you’re right. Typically, there’s a “rebound effect” with this sort of thing, with cheaper driving leading to more driving. I shaved a bit off my estimate to account for this, but it’s possible that I’m being too optimistic.
Hey Clark:I consider myself to be relatively environmentalist and I must admit that I despise the Cash for Clunkers program. It was an odd feeling to find myself on the same side as conservative Republicans, it really doesn’t happen to me often.Anyway, my feelings are: while improving the country’s automobile fleet efficiency is probably a good thing, reducing the size of the country’s automobile fleet is way better. I think the $3 billion dedicated so far to Cash for Clunkers would have been better spent trying to get our country out of their cars, rather than giving them new ones. (Put another way: how much public transit can you finance with the “cash” in Cash for Clunkers?)Second, I am somewhat concerned they’re destroying the old cars (correct me if I’m wrong here, I’m almost certain I’m not). Not only does all this building of new cars and destruction of old cars have a ridiculously larger carbon footprint in long run than switching out of cars altogether, some of the “clunkers” could still be more efficient than other clunkers – or, in essence, if the government has a bunch of 15 mpg clunkers, they might do well to allow people with 8 mpg clunkers to switch up. The way it works right now is a 15 mpg clunker can trade to a 25 mpg car, but the 15 mpg clunker then goes to waste. Seems a little weird.Finally, I don’t like the false sense of ecological security programs of this sort – much like LEED big box stores – might create. It’s important to remember no matter how shiny and sustainable the Prius might seem, it still pales in comparison to a good bike. I fear this might be a little government greenwashing.Anyway, hope to hear more of your thoughts on this, I’m willing to be convinced Cash for Clunkers is a score. But even the Times’ numbers, encouraging as they might be in terms of nationwide MPG, hardly suggest to me this idea not a setback, let alone a success, for those of us working for sustainability.