On the same day that we found out that motor vehicle output added 1.7% to economic growth in the third quarter – the largest contribution to quarterly growth in over a decade – Edmunds.com has released a faulty analysis suggesting that the Cash for Clunkers program had no meaningful impact on our economy or on overall auto sales. This is the latest of several critical “analyses” of the Cash for Clunkers program from Edmunds.com, which appear designed to grab headlines and get coverage on cable TV. Like many of their previous attempts, this latest claim doesn’t withstand even basic scrutiny.
The Edmunds analysis is based on two implausible assumptions:
1. The Edmunds’ analysis rests on the assumption that the market for cars that didn’t qualify for Cash for Clunkers was completely unaffected by this program.
In other words, all the other cars were being sold on Mars, while the rest of the country was caught up in the excitement of the Cash for Clunkers program. This analysis ignores not only the price impacts that a program like Cash for Clunkers has on the rest of the vehicle market, but the reports from across the country that people were drawn into dealerships by the Cash for Clunkers program and ended up buying cars even though their old car was not eligible for the program.
This faulty assumption leads Edmunds to a conclusion that is at odds with many independent analyses: Edmunds assumption that more than 80% of the payback from Cash for Clunkers would occur in 2009 isn't how many mainstream analyses, including Moody's and IHS Global Insight approach the problem (see pages 5 and 15 of this CEA report [PDF]). In fact, Deutsche Bank recently concluded that “The important takeaway from recent sales trends is that it suggests that there has been minimal 'payback' for the U.S. government’s 'cash for clunkers' program.”
2. Edmunds also ignores the beneficial impact that the program will have on 4th Quarter GDP because automakers have ramped up their production to rebuild their depleted inventories.
Major automakers including GM, Ford, Honda and Chrysler all increased their production through the end of the year as a result of this program, which will help boost growth beyond the third quarter. The actions of private market participants, who would not increase production if they didn’t think demand for their product would be there through the end of the year, is a far better indicator of market dynamics – and one that Edmunds.com conveniently ignores.
Most importantly, this program is helping boost our economy and create jobs now when we need it most. In a comprehensive report, the Council of Economic Advisers estimated that the Cash for Clunkers will create 70,000 jobs in the second half of 2009. The strength of recent auto sales data suggest that, if anything, this projection underestimates the actual impact of the program. CEA’s analysis is transparent and comprehensive, laying out all of its assumptions for the public to understand. Edmunds.com, on the other hand, is promoting a bombastic press release without any public access to their underlying analysis.
So put on your space suit and compare the two approaches yourself: