Cash for Clunkers ends, cash for appliances coming soon

The $3 billion “Cash for Clunkers” program officially ends today, having helped generate at least 625,000 new car sales. Representative Bruce Braley, a key advocate of the program, is holding an event this morning in Bettendorf with John McEleney, Chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, and Gary Thomas, President of the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association.

Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced that $300 million in stimulus money will go toward cash incentives for consumers to buy energy-efficient home appliances:

Beginning late this fall, the program authorizes rebates of $50 to $200 for purchases of high-efficiency household appliances. The money is part of the broader economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year. Program details will vary by state, and the Energy Dept. has set a deadline of Oct. 15 for states to file formal applications. The Energy Dept. expects the bulk of the $300 million to be awarded by the end of November. (Unlike the clunkers auto program, consumers won’t have to trade in their old appliances.)

“These rebates will help families make the transition to more efficient appliances, making purchases that will directly stimulate the economy,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement announcing the plan. Only appliances covered by the Energy Star seal will qualify. In 2008, about 55% of newly produced major household appliances met those standards, which are set by the Energy Dept. and Environmental Protection Agency.

Replacing old appliances can significantly reduce a household’s energy use and utility bills, so this seems like a good use of stimulus money. However, some analysts are skeptical that the new program will be as successful as “Cash for Clunkers”:

“The cash-for-clunkers (program) had a discernible value proposition for the consumer, because he knows how much his (clunker) is worth,” says [Sam] Darkatsh, the Raymond James analyst. “With appliances, there is no trade-in. You can walk into Home Depot and get a great deal on a home appliance any time you want one. Why would it drum up sales now?” Laura Champine, an analyst with Cowen & Co., agrees. “I’m not sure if it will be as powerful as cash for clunkers because there is something compelling about that $4,500 discount,” she says. “Also, a new car is more fun than a new dishwasher. So I’m not sure if it will be as much of a driver, but any driver is welcome right now.”

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