Via Jonathan Hiskes at Grist, I see that the Associated Press has done some good investigative work on the swaps that occurred as part of the Cash for Clunkers program. The best news is that the change in average fuel economy was about 9 mpg (from 15.8 to 24.9 mpg, based on the figures in the article). But the details of the swaps are what will capture people's attention:
The most common deals under the government's $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program, aimed at putting more fuel-efficient cars on the road, replaced old Ford or Chevrolet pickups with new ones that got only marginally better gas mileage, according to an analysis of new federal data by The Associated Press.
The single most common swap — which occurred more than 8,200 times — involved Ford F-150 pickup owners who took advantage of a government rebate to trade their old trucks for new Ford F-150s. They were 17 times more likely to buy a new F-150 than, say, a Toyota Prius. The fuel economy for the new trucks ranged from 15 mpg to 17 mpg based on engine size and other factors, an improvement of just 1 mpg to 3 mpg over the clunkers.
Owners of thousands more large old Chevrolet and Dodge pickups bought new Silverado and Ram trucks, also with only barely improved mileage in the middle teens, according to AP's analysis of sales of $15.2 billion worth of vehicles at nearly 19,000 car dealerships in every state. Those deals helped the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado — along with Ford's Escape midsize SUV — climb into the Top 10 most-popular vehicles purchased with the government rebates. The most common truck-for-truck and truck-for-SUV deals totaled at least $911 million.
Haste makes waste -- even beyond the waste of paying people to destroy productive assets. Waiting another month to design a better program, with more mileage bang for the taxpayer's buck, wouldn't have been a terrible idea at all.