Salvage operation

Congress scraps plan to junk old gas hogs after auto-industry pressure

If the Accelerated Retirement of Inefficient Vehicles Act had passed, participants would have earned up to $5,500 for crushing their old cars.

If the Accelerated Retirement of Inefficient Vehicles Act had passed, participants would have earned up to $5,500 for crushing their old cars.

Photo By R.V. Scheide

A program aimed at taking gas-guzzling vehicles off the road and putting money in the pockets of their owners has taken a detour due to opposition from auto-industry lobbyists.

Lobbyists from the Specialty Equipment Market Association, a group representing the specialty automotive industry, launched an e-mail campaign in January targeting congressional sponsors of the Accelerated Retirement of Inefficient Vehicles Act, arguing it would harm the after-market car business as well as independent repair shops.

The legislation, co-sponsored by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, was intended for the stimulus bill and would have awarded consumers a voucher of up to $5,500 to scrap vehicles earning less than 18 miles per gallon. The voucher could then be used to purchase a fuel-efficient vehicle or transit pass. Vehicle models from 1998 and earlier would receive a voucher for up to $2,000.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, which helped develop and analyze ARIVA, estimated the program would save 46,000 gallons of gas every day by 2013. The energy saved by reducing gasoline consumption would offset the energy used to dispose of the traded-in vehicles, according to their analysis.

The voluntary program alarmed SEMA, whose yearly specialty auto-parts show “attracts more than 100,000 industry leaders from over 100 countries for unlimited profit opportunities in the automotive, truck and SUV, and RV markets,” according to its Web site. An Urgent Action Alert warned members that classic cars could be sent to the scrap heap and that ARIVA was “targeting” SUVs and trucks.

Don Buckey, lead technician at independent Citrus Heights auto shop Walt’s Auto Service, doesn’t see the program as a threat.

“I see nothing there at all affecting our business,” Buckey told SN&R.

He said Walt’s has adapted to consumers’ growing preference for clean and fuel-efficient vehicles by providing training for its technicians in hybrid and ultra-low-emission vehicle technology. Business has increased in these areas, and he expects to see more hybrid vehicles come through the shop over the next few years.

“We could keep guys actually employed by updating their knowledge of the new technology,” said Buckey.

He doubted owners of newer vehicles eligible for the program or collectors who purchase aftermarket car parts for restoration projects would take part in the program.

Al Price III, owner of the Honest Engine in Midtown, said ARIVA might affect him minimally, since he services some vintage cars.

However, the Honest Engine began shifting its focus to servicing vehicles with better fuel economy two years ago, Price said. That’s when his technicians began fixing hybrid vehicles as well as traveling to other shops to assist workers unfamiliar with the technology.

“We’ve always worked on Hondas,” he said. “When we saw the hybrids coming along, you know, you wanna get ahead of the curve on that one.”

Price said he would not oppose a vehicle-retirement program that was voluntary.

ACEEE transportation program director Therese Langer said removal of ARIVA from consideration in the stimulus package was “disappointing.”

“This is an incentive that targets the most important vehicles to replace,” she said. Langer said the vehicle tax deduction included in the stimulus bill rewards people who don’t need a financial incentive for buying the most expensive vehicles, which are often gas guzzlers.

One of ARIVA’s goals was to provide “economic relief to drivers in middle-income household.”

Buckey said most of the high-fuel-consuming vehicles serviced at Walt’s are older vehicles whose owners can’t afford to purchase new ones.

“I’ve had people with no money to spend on their vehicles, and all they can do is keep them rolling down the road,” he said.

SEMA argued the program would “reduce the availability of affordable transportation and repair parts used by low-income drivers.”

Under the current bill, which was sent to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee after being rejected for consideration in the stimulus package, dismantlers would earn $50 for every car destroyed. The program would allow for the resale of parts, excluding the engine and drive train, but would prohibit resale of the entire car.

In a statement, SEMA said it would “remain vigilant in opposition” to the bill as it proceeds through Congress.