Death of "clunker" programme hits Prius sales

New figures show sales of green cars fell sharply following end of scrappage incentive scheme.

The end of the “cash for clunkers” initiative has taken its toll on the US auto industry, say analysts, with sales of fuel-efficient models such as the Toyota Prius particularly badly hit.

According to new figures, revenue from sales of light vehicles in the US plummeted by 38.5 per cent from August to September, as wary consumers tightened their belts once again.

The programme, which ended on August 24, had artificially boosted vehicle sales by offering a trade-in option for old cars to supplement the cost of new models. Sales of North American vehicles plummeted 36.2 per cent from August to September, according to data from industry analyst Ward’s Auto.

“Green cars were more affected than the market as a whole,” added John O’Dell, editor of the green car advisor blog at analyst firm Edmunds. “In the first six months of the year, Prius was in the 8-10,000 bracket. It went to 19,000 in July, 18,000 in August, and then fell back to 10,900 in September,” he said.

Similarly, sales of the Camry hybrid also dropped 59 per cent from August to September.

Green cars were particularly affected because they are more expensive than non-hybrid vehicles, thanks to their expensive battery technology and relatively low market share. O’Dell explained that customers had taken advantage of the rebate program to offset the additional cost of these low-fuel cars.

The sales data from Ward makes interesting reading. Ford and General Motors each suffered a drop of just over a third in US sales revenue between August and September. Chrysler escaped with a 30.5 per cent drop, faring slightly better than its domestic competitors. In total, US vendors lost 33.7 per cent of their sales in the domestic market after the programme ended.

Asian vendors were hit particularly hard in the US market. Toyota suffered a 42 per cent fall, with Nissan losing 45 per cent in sales. Honda saw half its sales disappear between August and September, while Suzuki lost a whopping two-thirds of its revenue from US sales. Significantly, European vendors lost just 15 per cent of sales month on month.

The programme, officially known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, was originally a $1bn (£625m) initiative, but proved so successful that Congress voted through another $2bn after the original funds were used up within a month. Designed to stimulate the stranded US auto sector, the programme provided customers with a credit of between $3,500 and $4,500 to put toward the new vehicle, depending on the vehicle being traded. Dealers applied for the funds to pass on to customers.

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