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ST. LOUIS — Cash for Clunkers may have been more beneficial to the industry than many people thought, according to the results of a Maritz Automotive Research Group study released Tuesday.

Basically, Maritz argues that the number of incremental sales that were spurred via CARS is dramatically higher than prior estimates suggested. Moreover, the research group says the study's results "largely debunk" the notion that future sales were sacrificed because of the program.

Through its year-round New Vehicle Customer Study, Maritz said more than 36,000 CARS buyers were surveyed.

"With such a large sample size, the NVCS study now offers the best and most robust data available as to the impact of CARS on automotive sales," explained Dave Fish, vice president of Maritz Automotive Research Group.

"Our findings not only provide strong evidence that many more vehicles were sold as a direct result of the incentive program than were previously estimated, but they also largely debunk the myth that Cash for Clunkers mortgaged future car and truck sales," he added. "In fact, the program resulted in sales of vehicles to people who don't normally buy them."

Specifically, the NVCS data indicates that 542,000 incremental vehicle sales were generated via CARS, compared to the previously estimated range of 125,000 to 346,000 incremental sales.

Maritz analyzed NVCS data on new-vehicle buyers in July and August (including CARS and non-CARS participants) and found that:

—Four percent of shoppers taking advantage of CARS would have still bought or leased a vehicle even if Cash for Clunkers wasn't around.

—Almost a third (31 percent) utilized the rebate "specifically because of the CARS program."

—13 percent planned on participating in CARS, but were not eligible.

—More than half (52 percent) did not utilize Cash for Clunkers and never planned to do so.

Pointing to data on www.cars.gov, Maritz said that 677,000 transactions were deemed CARS eligible. The group claims that around 80 percent of these consumers (542,000) were motivated to purchase or lease primarily because of Cash for Clunkers.

Also, Moritz suggested that an estimated additional 223,000 transactions involved shoppers wishing to take advantage of CARS, but weren't eligible.

"The ‘halo sales' of 223,000 vehicles were an added bonus to the already solid results produced by the CARS program," Fish commented.

Impact on Future Sales?

Continuing on, officials explained in greater detail why they believe CARS did not "mortgage" future sales.

"While experiencing a slight dip in sales in September 2009, most likely due to a shortage of auto dealer inventory, the seasonally adjusted annual rate from October through December 2009 shows that automobiles continued to sell at a higher pace than before the CARS program was implemented, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis," the study suggested.

What's more, Maritz said its NVCS data indicates that it wasn't necessarily the "normal" new-vehicle shopper that CARS drew to the market.

Rather, Cash for Clunkers tapped into "an unorthodox pool of consumers" comprised of many used-vehicle owners, first-time vehicles buyers, consumers with trade-ins having more than 100,000 miles and shoppers looking to add another vehicle to their "family fleet."

Looking at some of the specifics, Maritz noted that "typical CARS program buyers were more often first time new buyers (16 percent) than typical new car buyers (12 percent)" and that "CARS buyers were more often adding to their household fleet (31 percent) than non-CARS buyers (22 percent). "

Additionally, the study noted that over 60 percent of CARS participants said they intend to drive their rides "as long as possible" instead of "replacing them every few years."  Only 38 percent of non-CARS participants said the same.

The data indicates that over half (58 percent) of shoppers utilizing Cash for Clunkers were bringing in a ride that they had bought as used. Just 28 percent of non-CARS participants were doing the same.

Maritz also pointed out that 80 percent of units swapped out during CARS had mileages greater 100,000, and half of the trade-ins were older than 10 years.

"These results provide strong empirical evidence that CARS did not impede future sales," Fish shared. "Vehicles were sold to people who don't normally buy them."

Job Market Benefits

Moving on, Maritz argued that CARS helped to generate auto industry jobs. According to Maritz, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's report to Congress indicates that gross domestic product was boosted anywhere from $3.8 billion to $6.8 billion thanks to CARS.

Maritz noted that NHTSA's report also said Cash for Clunkers "created or saved nearly 60,000 jobs."

Citing data from the Center for Automotive Research, CARS resulted in 40,200 new jobs. In fact, the data said roughly 11,000 of these were in Michigan and Ohio.

Pattern for Future Success?

Next, the NVCS research offered findings that could lead to even more success for private or public incentives down the road.

Analysts found that 13 percent of consumers — "largely female, younger, unmarried with lower household income" — were looking to advantage of CARS, but were unable to because they didn't understand the rules regarding trade-ins and eligible new vehicles.

What's more, Generation X and Millennial generations shoppers fell into this boat as well, as they were more likely than other generations to be in the "wanting to participate but could not" group. This again, was likely due to confusion about the program's requirements, officials indicated.

Also, 30 percent of Cash for Clunkers buyers utilized the specific automaker's financing arm to finance their purchase, compared to the typical rate of 36 percent who do this. 

NVCS data also suggested that CARS buyers weren't as loyal to specific brands or dealers. Specifically, 21 percent of CARS participants were loyal to a particular brand, versus 40 percent of non-CARS buyers.

Meanwhile, 8 percent of Cash for Clunkers participants were loyal to a particular dealer, versus 23 percent of non-CARS buyers.

Energy Impact

Finally, Maritz said its research "further supports" what NHTSA discovered as far as the CARS benefiting environment and energy savings.

NVCS data illustrates that half of the units brought in under CARS were older than 10 years and had mileages greater than 100,000 miles.

"Older vehicles such as these only averaged 15.8 miles per gallon and were replaced with vehicles averaging 24.9 miles per gallon, according to NHTSA, which estimates that 'the reduction in fuel consumption over the next 25 years to be 824 million gallons … saving roughly 33 million gallons annually,'" officials noted.

"NHTSA also reports, 'The estimated reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and related greenhouse gases over the next 25 years is nine million metric tons, a reduction with an estimated social benefit of $278 million over 25 years (in 2008 dollars),'" they concluded.