Fairbanks jumps into federal

FAIRBANKS — At least four Fairbanks car dealers said Friday they’ll continue to sell cars under the popular “cash for clunkers program” despite mixed signals from the federal government about the program’s fate.
“We told a couple people (Thursday) night that it was done,” Gene’s Chrysler Sales Manager Scott Graham said. “Then (Friday) morning we wake up and everything is good. We’re doing it on faith,” he said. “We’re watching the developments as close as we can. We’re a little nervous about it as I think all car dealers are.”
Under the program, formally known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, car buyers are eligible for as much as $4,500 toward a new vehicle, which must meet gas mileage standards compared with a trade-in.
The government is reimbursing dealers, but the $1 billion allocated for the program is believed to be nearly spent. The program was meant to stop later this year or when the money ran out.
Congress is working on securing more funding. A measure passed the House, and the Senate is expected to take up the issue next week. Both Alaska senators said they support continuing the program.
President Barack Obama lauded cash for clunkers and urged the Senate to approve an additional $2 billion.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs went a step further. He told reporters at a briefing, “Look, we hope a lot of people go this weekend to look at buying a new car.”
Gibbs said he’s confident “there’s money to cover those transactions,” according to White House transcripts.
But The Iowa-based chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association is cautioning dealers. John McEleney issued a statement saying his organization has no assurances that dealers would be reimbursed for deals beyond Friday.
Greg Smith, sales manager at Stanley Nissan, said he plans to make cash-for-clunker deals until the government says to stop.
“They’ve gotten backlogged, and they’re just trying to sort it all out,” Smith said. “We’ll run it until the government tells us no more.”
Margaret Russell of Seekins Ford Lincoln Mercury said the program has generated more traffic at her dealership and a good deal more paperwork.
“The program is fairly complex,” she said. “The dealers have been really the ones kind of taking the risk. If we can’t get our $4,500 from the government, as a dealer we are not going to go back to the consumer.”
Kevin Robinson of Chevrolet Cadillac of Fairbanks said, “You just keep moving forward and doing the best you can to help the customers. It’s a great program and hopefully it continues.”
James Bailey, the general manager at Aurora Motors, declined an interview.
“I have been locked up here in my office for three days trying to do deals,” he said.
The general manager at Auto Service Co. was equally on edge.
“We are in too much of a quagmire right now for me to talk to you,” Dave Shuttleworth said.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, announced that she wrote a letter to the transportation and treasury secretaries explaining the program was delayed in Alaska owing to a computer glitch.
The glitch was reportedly corrected, although the federal Web site explaining the program only lists two Anchorage dealerships as Alaska participants.
Murkowski is calling for economic stimulus money to be used to continue the program.

By:  Originally published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on August 01, 2009