Japanese Automakers Object To Altering 'Clunkers'

Toyota, Honda and other manufacturers objected to a request from U.S. lawmakers to change ‘cash-for-clunkers’ program to allow vouchers for cars not in stock at dealerships.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Japanese automakers objected Wednesday to a request from lawmakers to change the $3 billion "cash-for-clunkers" program to allow consumers to get vouchers even if a car isn't in stock at dealerships.

Toyota Motor Corp. said it opposed the proposal from Michigan Republican Reps. Candice Miller and Fred Upton, saying it would "create considerable confusion for consumers and dealers that is not warranted."

Honda Motor Co. said it questioned whether changes to the popular incentives were needed and the president of a trade group representing Toyota, Honda and 11 other foreign manufacturers said changing the car rebate midstream would create more complications.

"It's another whole level of complexity in a very complex program already," said Mike Stanton, president and chief executive of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers.

Congress approved a $2 billion extension to the car rebate program last week, a move that could let consumers take advantage of the vouchers of up to $4,500 until Labor Day. Through early Wednesday, $1.32 billion had been spent on the program, leading to the sale of 316,189 new vehicles.

Miller and Upton wrote Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood earlier this week asking that consumers be allowed to receive vouchers from the manufacturers for vehicles that have yet to arrive at dealerships. The current rules require the vehicles to be at dealerships to qualify.

The lawmakers said the clunkers program has led to a scarcity of certain fuel-efficient vehicles, and reduced production levels have made it difficult for car companies to replenish their inventories. "The inventories of some auto makers and dealers have been so depleted that the program's extension may be limited in its effectiveness," Miller and Upton wrote.

The Transportation Department has been reviewing the lawmakers' request. Domestic automakers, meanwhile, have been more open to the potential changes.

Chrysler said in a statement Wednesday that because of declining inventories, "a consumer currently may have to settle for less than their first choice to lock in the benefits of the CARS program." Chrysler said it continues to "look for ways to ensure the consumer can obtain the vehicle of their choice."

General Motors Co. spokesman Greg Martin said "a voucher idea might be worth a closer look" as vehicle inventory levels dwindle. Ford Motor Co. spokesman Mike Moran said the automaker had worked hard ensure adequate vehicle supply at dealerships but would support the measure if it would "help consumers get the vehicles they want."

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