Local car sales skyrocket with ‘clunker’ deals

MANATEE — The Obama administration initially estimated 23,000 car dealers nationwide would each sell 13 Cash for Clunkers vehicles.

If local dealers are any indication, government estimates were way off.

Gettel Toyota-Kia on 14th Street West pulled off 130 clunker deals during the seven-week program ending today that credited customers $3,500 or $4,500 in federal funds for their old gas-guzzlers.

Gettel’s gross was $1.4 million, according to general manager Jeramie Snelling.

Gettel’s enormous lot, which usually has 300 cars, trucks and vans, had 65 vehicles in stock Sunday and looked like it was cleared for repaving.

“I’ve only been here eight months, but I would say this could be the lightest inventory we have ever had,” Snelling said.

On Sunday, Gettel had no Corollas, no Sienna vans, no Rav-4 small utilities, no Yaris economy cars and no Tacoma trucks, Snelling said.

In their place, behind the dealership, was a veritable used car lot of clunkers, each due to get a “lethal injection” sent by the government to destroy their engines, making sure they no longer pollute the environment, the dealer said.

Down the street, Autoway Ford doubled the government estimate, taking 26 customers out of clunkers to gross more than $500,000, general sales manager Troy Brown said.

The next step: payment

The dealers say they have received little to no federal funds thus far in return.

But Brown and Snelling said their dealerships are large enough that they kept on making deals despite not getting government reimbursement.

“I know some of the smaller dealers cut it off a while ago,” said Brown, whose store has been paid on two of the 26 deals. “But we’re publicly owned and, thankfully, we have the resources to go all the way.”

Gettel, which also made 110 clunker deals at its Hyundai-Nissan-Acura store in Sarasota, has not been paid on any of its clunker sales, Snelling said.

“Of course we’re concerned, but we are fortunate in having the organization behind us,” he said. “Most dealers in town cut it off earlier.”

Both Brown and Snelling were amazed by the program’s success.

“We got people who were not Ford people to come and buy our product,” Brown said.

Snelling said it got so busy at Gettel one Saturday that he had to wait on customers because each of the store’s roughly 30 sales personnel were with customers.

“It felt like 2006 and 2007,” he said.

A happy Fusion owner

Don Durnin, of Bradenton’s Plantation Village, is one of the final Autoway Ford “clunker” customers, trading in a 1993 Lincoln Mark VIII for a 2010 Ford Fusion SEL this past weekend.

Were it not for the clunker deal, Durnin wouldn’t have traded right away, he said.

“It definitely put me in the market,” said Durnin, who has worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 26 years and is currently a mail handler at the Manasota processing and distribution center near the Bradenton-Sarasota International Airport.

“A lot of people were skeptical at first about the program,” Durnin said. “They weren’t sure what they would end up with. Now, people I talk to wish they had done it. I think if they come out with it again, it will get even more people.”

Durnin’s Lincoln was running, which was required, but might need a coil or starter, Brown said.

“It’s worth about $1,000,” he said.

Overall, Durnin qualified for $3,500 in government money, plus a $500 Ford “loyalty” bonus and a $1,500 rebate on the Fusion, bringing his downpayment to $5,500. That saved him $80 on his monthly payment on the new car, Brown said.

“This was perfect timing for me,” Durnin said.

Over at Gettel, salesman Carl Gregg and his wife, bilingual saleswoman Nina Gregg Gonzales, teamed up to make 13 clunker deals all by themselves.

“None of us expected the program to do what it did, because it had never been done before,” Carl Gregg said.

Luz Moreno and her husband, Francisco Mendez, worked on a clunker deal Sunday with the Greggs, trading in a 1997 GMC Safari for a better gas mileage vehicle.

“My mother ... heard about the clunkers on TV,” Moreno said. “She made us come in.”