New ‘Clunkers’ Analysis: Trucks, SUVs More Popular Than Suggested

When the Obama administration first called for more "cash for clunkers" last week, two influential senators said they could not back an extension without stronger efficiency standards for the program’s trade-ins — only to drop their opposition after viewing U.S. DOT sales figures that showed buyers snapping up gas-sipping cars.

1097.jpgIs this Ford Escape the real winner of "cash for clunkers"? (Photo: InfoBarrel)

But as it turns out, those figures relied on a bit of fuzzy (and Environmental Protection Agency-approved) math. Vehicles were separated according to 4WD, 2WD, and hybrid varieties, unlike more traditional auto-sales figures that tally all three, listing only the make and model.

When CNN enlisted independent auto-industry trackers at Edmunds.com to project the sales figures if all engine varieties counted as a single vehicle, a funny thing happened: The top "clunkers" seller went from the efficient Toyota Corolla to the Ford Escape SUV.

The Escape is available as a hybrid, which gets 29 miles per gallon and 11.8 barrels in average annual oil consumption, according to the government’s fuel-economy tracker. The Corolla gets identical scores.

But the Escape’s conventional varieties get 22 and 24 mpg, with much higher oil use estimates.

The Edmunds.com study also found that two full-size trucks, the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado, would rank in the "clunkers" top 10 if the DOT counted their multiple varieties as a single vehicle. The Silverado gets either 15 or 17 mpg, depending on the engine type, while the F-150 gets between 16 and 17 mpg.

In contrast to the DOT’s sales list, which ranked foreign-made cars in six of the top 10 spots, Edmunds.com’s adjusted list found that eight of the top 10 most-purchased vehicles were GM, Ford, or Chrysler.

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