LOS ANGELES -- Auto row in Santa Monica, Calif., is not a good place for nonluxury or second-tier mainstream brands.
Residents of the upscale beach town just west of Los Angeles tend to prefer the likes of BMW, Lexus, Mercedes or alternative-fuel vehicles like the Toyota Prius.
But just like everywhere else in the country, the cash for clunker program helped bring life to dealerships on this strip, whether they were hunting for clunker deals or just out shopping for a new car.
On Monday, the last day of the program, Staff Reporter Kathy Jackson walked the dozen or so blocks along Santa Monica Boulevard to check out the action as the deadline approached. And while it was mostly slow, dealership personnel were mostly happy.
Dealers have until 8 p.m. EDT today to file their clunker claims.
Santa Monica Ford
Customer Elizabeth is very disappointed. The store stopped taking clunker deals on Sunday. I was thinking today was the last day, she said, while looking at a new 2008 Taurus X. Im really disappointed, she said. Now I have to go home and fix up my old car.
But salesman Gilbert Owens isnt hearing that. Hes trying hard to seal the deal. He tells Elizabeth she can drive home in the very loaded Taurus for $25,995, as opposed to the MSRP of $31,600.
It needs to go away, he said. Its a 2008 and is costing us too much in flooring.
The car has all the goodies a DVD player, back-up sensor, satellite radio. How cool, Elizabeth said.
The only thing not working is the battery. Its dead. But once Owens gets that going, he offers Elizabeth a test drive.
Hold on, she said. This is going too fast. I thought I could get a clunker deal.
Then he shows her the fold-down seats, and she agrees to take the drive. Elizabeth is longing to get rid of her 1996 BMW, which she swears only gets 10 miles to the gallon.
And it needs paint, tires, she said. If I could just trade it in and get something that doesnt suck up gas.
Will she buy it without the clunker rebate? She promises to let me know if she buys it.
Santa Monica Toyota
There are no customers in the showroom. The largest Prius-selling store in the nation stopped doing clunker deals last Thursday.
There was too much money outstanding, said general sales manager Billy Rinker. Anybody doing clunker deals today [is] crazy.
He said the store completed 276 clunker deals and has yet to be paid for any of them. We still think it was a huge success, Rinker said. It created a buying frenzy. There were just too many complications with paperwork.
Rinker thinks back to what he calls Black Thursday (July 30). Thats the day the rumors were flying that the government was going to cancel the program on July 31 because of a lack of funds. Rinker said the store did 53 deals that day. On a normal weekday, the dealership might complete 10.
We had customers sleeping in cars. It was a party, he said. Rinkers father, Bill Rinker Sr., is vice president and general manager of the store. He said that in his 33 years of business he has never seen anything like clunkers.
It was unbelievable, he said. The dealership was unbelievably filled. We had a clunker team just to process the vehicles.
It was the best and the worst, he said. We had all of these customers but had to deal with the government.
The Rinkers say they sold 453 new vehicles in July and are poised to sell over 400 in August, even though they quit the program early. The dealership usually sells about 350 new vehicles each month.
Even Scion sales are up. The dealership was selling about 12 Scions a month before clunker. Through today, it had sold 34 Scions this month.
But we want it (clunkers) to stop; enough is enough, Rinker Sr. said. We havent been paid anything.
As for the future, the Rinkers are confident. The customers looking for clunker deals may be gone, but they think the program has done a world of good for consumer confidence overall. We dont think this robbed too much from the future, Rinker Jr. said. This has really jump started consumer confidence.
Santa Monica Audi
About a half dozen customers were in the store – and sitting at sales desks talking about deals.
It was so busy that there was no one with time to talk. Come back later, said the smiling receptionist.
Santa Monica Nissan
It was pretty empty compared to the weekend, when owner John Gartman said the showroom was filled with about 75 people. He said they stopped doing deals Monday morning because he was afraid he could not submit the paperwork on time.
Since 7 a.m. this morning, we have not been able to get into the computer system, he said. He said that from 9 a.m. until about noon they had about 20 calls from people looking to trade in clunkers.
This has been an excellent program, but were waiting to get paid, he said.
Gartman said he has been paid on two of 50 submissions. He also needs product. He only had four Versas and two Sentras. But hes still happy. August sales are projected to be about 80 new vehicles, compared with 40 a month during the fourth quarter of 2008.
August will be our best month by far this year, he said
Santa Monica Volvo
No customers seen. But salesman Fernando Favelasaid they did close seven clunker deals. One was for a 1984 Chevy van with no back seats.
The owners took out the back seats for their surfer boards, he said. These are people from the Palos Verdes Estates (can you say rich peoples land?). They were going to drive that van into the ground. But then they thought if the government is going to give us money, well take it.
The new car: A 2009 S60 2.5 Turbo.
This program really helped customers take another look at their situation, he said. It brought out people who have been hiding since the economy shut down.
Santa Monica Lexus
So big, so elegant. Very few customers in the store, but general manager Sean Sullivan was laid back and cool. The store had already closed five nonclunker deals earlier in the day, and he was expecting customers later in the evening.
The Lexus store closed 25 clunker deals, mostly for the small IS sedan, the RX hybrid crossover and the new HS dedicated hybrid sedan. And he said sales for August will compete strongly with March, when consumers came out in force to beat the increased sales tax that hit Los Angeles in April.
March sales: 275 new. August: an estimated 250 to 260. Said Sullivan: Clunkers pushed a lot of people off the fence.