The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star on Thursday, July 30:

The “Cash for Clunkers” program unveiled recently has a good shot at accomplishing its big goals.

The program will help the environment by getting up to 250,000 older passenger cars, sport utility vehicles and trucks off American roads. They will be replaced with far more fuel-efficient models, which will reduce harmful emissions belched into the air for many years.

And consumers benefit because they are getting up to $4,500 from the federal government to trade in older model, low-mileage vehicles. It’s an attractive way to slice the purchase price of a new vehicle.

The $1 billion plan will be a boon for motorists because they will spend far less money on fuel for their newer vehicles, a savings that will accumulate long into the future.

And, the program — officially called CARS or Car Allowance Rebate System — will inject some much-needed life into the U.S. automobile industry.

Dealers across the nation this week have reported larger-than-usual crowds of people kicking the tires and looking into buying new vehicles. Manufacturers and dealers also have wisely stepped forward with incentives of their own, trying to attract more buyers into the showrooms.

Given the huge investment by the federal government (in other words, by American taxpayers) in General Motors and Chrysler, the program could have the effect of boosting the futures of both companies. They need more sales to generate enough profits to keep even their reduced number of assembly lines busy in the future.

Consumers who want to take advantage of the cash assistance deal for new cars have to move relatively quickly and make sure they understand the rules. Help is available on the Web and on the showroom floor. The government has said it will spend the billion dollars on the program or pull the plug on it by November — whichever comes first.

Judging by the initial enthusiastic reaction, the government won’t have much trouble giving away the taxpayer funds. By Wednesday, more than $150 million had been allocated to new car buyers.

There’s already talk about a second, similar effort in 2010. However, federal officials ought to see exactly how Cash for Clunkers works out over the coming few months before renewing it.

Some auto experts have questioned how many extra old vehicles the program will take off the roads beyond what would normally occur.

Congress also should look at whether a future program could be less costly to taxpayers by reducing the amount of money offered for clunkers

At this point, though, it appears Americans are eagerly taking advantage of a well-timed opportunity to slip behind the wheel of a newer — and cheaper — vehicle.

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