How successful has the Cash for Clunkers been? That depends upon your criteria for judging it.
If your criterion for success is participation, Cash for Clunkers is a sure success.
If your criterion for success is assistance to the auto industry, then Cash for Clunkers looks good to you too.
If your criteria are environmental, however, Cash for Clunkers looks like a washout. The benefit of getting people to trade in old cars for new, relatively fuel efficient vehicles promotes the idea of fuel efficiency, and reduces carbon emissions in cars. The program encourages carbon emissions related to the production of cars, however, a footprint that can take years of efficient driving to wash away.
If your criterion is benefit to the economy beyond the auto industry, Cash for Clunkers is a clinker. Yes, the program stimulated auto sales, but it appears that the increase in auto sales led people to spend less in other areas of the economy, according to an analysis by the New York Times. Overall sales in July decreased, though they had been expected to increase.
The Cash for Clunkers program is not sustainable, and it doesn’t point us in the right direction for the future. What we need is not emergency CPR for America’s car economy, but true transportation reform to establish post-car methods of environmentally sensible and economically affordable ways of getting around.