Family Dealership Thankful For Clunkers

Liane Hansen first spoke to John Brooks and his family last December when their family owned a Chevrolet dealership. Ellis Brooks Auto Center stopped selling new Chevrolets, focusing instead on selling used cars. Guest host David Greene checks in with Brooks about how the Cash For Clunkers program has affected sales.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

The federal government's Cash for Clunkers program has been wildly popular. Car buyers seem eager to get those vouchers worth up to $4,500 for trading in gas-guzzling vehicles for new fuel-efficient ones. They've quickly plowed through the $1 billion originally allocated by Congress for the subsidies, and Congress has since authorized an additional $2 billion.

And for one dealer's perspective, we've invited back John Brooks. He was on our program last year after his family dealership, Ellis Brooks Auto Center, announced that it would stop selling new Chevrolets after 53 years and would instead focus on used cars.

John Brooks joins us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Hi there, John.

Mr. JOHN BROOKS (Auto Dealer, Ellis Brooks Auto Center): Hi, David, how are you?

GREENE: I'm well. So, tell us how has Cash for Clunkers affected your business? Are you selling more cars because of it?

Mr. BROOKS: We actually are, even though we're strictly pre-owned now. It is not directly affecting is. You can't get the voucher if you're buying a used car. However, there's a lot of people out there that want used cars, don't want a new car and it's just getting them in the mood to shop, so we're still getting a lot of residual business from the excitement created by it.

GREENE: It's interesting, they actually use the vouchers at your business?

Mr. BROOKS: No, no, they cannot use them at our store here in San Francisco. We still have our other dealership up in northern California, which we have new cars. And they're using there, and has been very good for business up there.

GREENE: There have been these media reports of considerable increases in sales and now some low inventories. Have you been seeing that at your dealerships?

Mr. BROOKS: Oh, absolutely. You know, at our new car dealership, I mean, we've cleared out almost all of our inventory. We're down to, I would say, about ten Hondas left and pretty much no GM products.

GREENE: Wow.

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, it's more than doubled out traffic compared to any other two-week period.

GREENE: What exactly do you do with these old clunkers? I mean, are you reselling them or dismantling them for parts?

Mr. BROOKS: No, neither. They have to be immediately disabled when you get them. The dealer has to pour sodium silicate into the engine. You got to drain all the engine oil, pour sodium silicate into it, run it for about 15 seconds, which kills the motor, just seizes, and it won't run ever again.

GREENE: Well, John Brooks, what's your opinion of this program broadly? I mean, does it have a chance to turn around the auto industry in the long term or is this just a one-time sales spike for you guys?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, we'll have to see, but I would say it's short term. You know, it'sany incentive program, whether it's factory or this government program, I mean, it generally tends to pull business ahead. Gets people that were maybe thinking of buying a car six months down the road to go, well, wait a minute, I should buy one now.

So, I think it is a short-term fix. It's making us all feel great right now, but we'll see where everything falls when the dust settles a couple of months down the road.

GREENE: Well, John, thanks for spending some time with us.

Mr. BROOKS: Absolutely. Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) See Ellis Brooks today for your Chevrolet, corner of Bush and Venice. He's got a deal for you, oh, what a deal for you

GREENE: This is NPR News.

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