Confusion reigned throughout U.S. auto showrooms today as dealers canceled cash-for-clunkers ads, but then restarted program sales once they received government assurance the program would be honored through the weekend.
Dealer Mary Gezon Huizenga of Gezon Motors in Grand Rapids, Mich., had canceled the 18 cash-for-clunkers deliveries the store had scheduled from today through Wednesday when she heard reports late Thursday that deals had to be uploaded by midnight.
But this morning she said her staff was trying to get all of those customers in the store today.
They said it was erroneous reporters getting key-happy, Gezon Huizenga said of an employees conversation with the hotline staff. They said, Go ahead and process.
Theres a couple of guys that are going to be texting (customers phones) as we speak to get more people in until we get the next key-happy update.
The Gezon Motors staff had been in the office late Thursday night until they got the last of their 35 completed deals filed into the government system at 11:44 p.m.
The late-night work session was spurred by reports citing congressional and industry officials saying the Obama administration would suspend the guzzlers incentive within the next day because of insufficient funding. But the executive branch opted to keep it going through the weekend while options are considered.
The House of Representatives today offered one possible solution by voting to triple the funding for the $1 billion program, which offers consumers as much as $4,500 to trade in some gas-guzzling cars for new ones with better fuel economy. The Senate will take up the measure next week.
John Grow, who owns Gibbons Ford in Dickson City, Pa., started warning consumers this morning that their deals werent totally final until we know what the heck is going on, he said.
We told the customers their deals were contingent upon the government continuing the program, he said.
Roger Mercer, owner of Mercer Nissan-Mazda in Lufkin, Texas, had originally thought he would continue the cash-for-clunkers deliveries schedule for this morning.
After speaking with his sales manager, he's still optimistic the program will continue. But he said he had a change of heart about the deliveries.
"The customers are buying high mileage, mid- to small cars, and they are also low-profit cars," Mercer says. "You make $150 to $200 on the front end, and we're gambling on $3,500.
"I'm an eternal optimist, but I'm putting this on hold."
U.S. officials had surveyed automakers Thursday about the advisability of a moratorium on the program, said Alex Fedorak, a spokesman for Kia Motors America.
Fedorak said he believes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted the review because of the software issues the program is having. He said dealers are having trouble accessing NHTSA's Web site and processing their reimbursement claims.
Kia argued against the move, Fedorak said, because the program is generating sales and so much money has been spent on advertising.
Sid DeBoer, chairman of the Lithia Motors dealership group, said he was "calling every congressman and senator I can call. The government can spend $10 billion on this and do more good for the economy than it could with the $700 billion stimulus package."
Even if the program had been suspended, DeBoer said he doesn't plan to change Lithia's strategy much.
"We will do what we did before. We'll do the deals and reserve the cars they want to buy," he said. "We'll just change the message in our advertising to say that the government suspended the program temporarily, but you should still come in, make a deposit and get in line."
Other dealers were going a step further. Russ Darrow, a Wisconsin dealer with 17 stores, said he had canceled $150,000 to $200,000 in cash-for-clunkers television advertising.
Chrysler dealer David Kelleher, who owns two stores in the Philadelphia area, spent this morning frantically trying to freeze $30,000 in cash-for-clunkers advertising he had placed.
With the federal program going full steam, Kelleher had applied for and received a temporary zoning variance to put up special signs and 30-foot dumpsters in front of each of his dealerships. His TV ads trumpeted his expertise in clunkers and were tied to Chrysler's offer to match the government offer with up to $4,500 in cash.
Massachusetts' Ernie Boch, whose dealerships include the No. 1 Honda and No. 2 Toyota stores in the United States, said he was going to start advertising the program on Aug. 1.
Said Boch as reports of a cancellation peaked: "Now I guess I don't have to."
Kathy Jackson, Bradford Wernle, Donna Harris, Arlena Sawyers, Neil Roland, Mark Rechtin and Reuters contributed to this report.