CNN Exposes Government's Funny Math for Clunker Program, SUV Really Most Popular

The Senate stepped in to save Cash for Clunkers Aug. 6, giving it a $2 billion extension. But on Aug. 7, CNN.com found a big difference between independent analysis and government claims of which cars were most popular buys.

Peter Valdes-Dapena explored the difference between government data on the clunkers program (claiming small cars were most popular) and Edmunds.com analysis which showed that "two full-size trucks and a small crossover SUV were actually among the top-ten buys."

"The discrepancy is a result of the methods used. Edmunds.com uses traditional sales measurements, tallying sales by make and model. The government uses a more arcane measurement method that subdivides models according to engine and transmission types, counting them as separate models," Valdes-Dapena wrote.

Based on those methods Edmunds ranked the Ford Escape crossover SUV as the best seller, while the government ranked it seventh.

According to Valdes-Dapena, "sales of truck models would tend to be heavily diluted using the government's method because practically each version counts as a different vehicle."

Ironically, just one day earlier CNN "Newsroom" reported that there had been a "big shift" to smaller cars. CNN's Felicia Taylor said, "critics feared some would actually use that money to buy another truck, but that's not what's happening. The top sellers so far: Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Honda Civic." She did mention that the Ford Escape made the top ten.

The national news media was outspokenly supportive of Cash for Clunkers, particularly on ABC, CBS and NBC. Reporters called the program "wildly popular," "too successful," and all three networks said it's a "victim of its own success" when it burned through the entire $1 billion budget in a mere week.

CNBC's Jim Cramer even praised the potential $2 billion extension as "money well-spent" on NBC's "Today."

However, Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of Edmunds.com said "it's not clear that cash for clunkers actually increased sales."

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.