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Local dealers not big fans of balky Cash for Clunkers

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Local auto dealers still are waiting for payment on the bulk of their Cash for Clunkers sales, and none are anxious for a reprise of the program.

"The premise was pretty good," said Tom Krusemark, owner of Valu Ford and Chrysler in Morris. "It did what (the federal government) wanted it to do. It generated a lot of interest in the showroom and it got things cranked up in Detroit. But logistically, it left a lot to be desired."

The $3 billion program gave consumers rebates of $4,500 and $3,500 if they traded in less efficient auto, trucks and SUVs for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

But the program was beset by technical programs, changing rules and standards, and dealers were required to not only learn ever-changing details of the program very quickly, they were swamped in paperwork and often became the fall guys if consumers were rejected, said Dan Dripps, owner of Heartland Motor Company in Morris.

"It was an administrative nightmare," Dripps said. "We were constantly jumping through hoops. Behind the scenes, the things customers didn't see, were a lot of late nights at the office and a lot of guessing games. Some people became disgruntled with us not knowing what was going on. They thought we were the experts, but they were changing the rules all the time. Normally, we know what we're doing, but it was hard in this case."

Dripps said earlier this week that Heartland made 28 Cash for Clunkers deals and had been paid for four of them. That leaves Heartland waiting on about $100,000 in government payments, Dripps said.

"We're not-so-patiently waiting for money," Dripps said with a laugh. "It went a lot faster and a lot more people took advantage of it than I think (government officials) were expecting."

Tom Krusemark made 10 Cash for Clunkers deals and recently received the first payment. He admits Valu's participation was tentative. Applications were kicked back to the dealers for a variety of reasons, and dealers had to either rework the application or tell customers why their vehicle didn't qualify.

"We played it pretty cautious from the outset," he said. "It was definitely not very well communicated to us, as dealers, and to the customers, as well."

Joel Krusemark, owner of Morris Auto Plaza, was even more conservative. MAP submitted just four deals under the program and hasn't been paid for them yet.

Most of MAP's deals involve trucks or SUVs, not the smaller vehicles that were the primary focus of the program. In addition, if MAP didn't have a qualifying vehicle in its inventory, it didn't make dealer trades to bring them in, Joel Krusemark said.

"I don't like it when the government can't get a program together," he said. "Now, they're going to have a Cash for Clunker Appliances program. I talked to appliance retailers and they say they've heard nothing about it. I tell them, 'Welcome to our world. The same thing happened to us.' "

Joel Krusemark said he didn't want to see another Cash for Clunkers program.

Dripps said the program was a positive in that, unlike tax rebates, people were forced to spend the money. But he wasn't in any hurry to engage in another Cash for Clunkers program unless drastic changes were made.

"This put money in the consumers' pockets and they spent it on something that will continue to trickle on down," Dripps said. "But we were the Guinea pigs. I've got a lot of ideas about how not to do it. It would be great if they did it again, just in a different way."