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  (Source: Detroit News)
New program hopes to provide a boost to hybrids, put more eco-friendly cars on the road

With increased concerns about global warming and soaring gas costs, the U.S. and Canadian governments are looking to provide relief to consumers checkbooks and the environment by stepping up efforts to get old, dirty, inefficient autos off the road.  A variety of state-level efforts are aimed to provide help to lower-income families in purchasing newer, more efficient transportation.

Leading the way in the U.S., perhaps surprisingly to some, is Texas, the iconic face of the U.S. oil industry.  The traditionally conservative state is launching a large $45 million annual program aimed at providing subsidies to help get polluting autos off the road.  The effort is named "Drive a Clean Machine" and is only available to Austin, Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area citizens with low incomes and a car over 10 years old.

A family of four must make $63,000 or less to qualify.  Texas has the second most vehicles of any state, with 8.7 million total on the road.  The vehicles eligible for the program must also fail an emissions test and be drivable to a dealership under their own power.

The program will offer those that qualify up to $3,500 to help in their purchase of a new or (newer) used vehicle.  Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says the program has been a phenomenal success, replacing 11,000 elderly vehicles.  "It's a great way to get those older vehicles off the roads," said Marrow

Citizens buying a hybrid are eligible for $3,500, while those buying traditional autos can receive a $3,000 in voucher form to buy a truck up to two years old or a car up to three years old.  All vehicles must be $25,000 or less and be on a state-approved list.

Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing Detroit's Big Three, Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG and six others, said his group strongly encourages such efforts.  While encouraging newer auto purchases will help the auto companies, he says the big thing is that it helps the environment and consumers.  "We strongly support efforts to get older, less-efficient vehicles off the roads and help consumers," said Territo.

Indeed there is evidence that much of the nation's auto population is becoming increasingly decrepit.  The economy has been getting hammered, with June being the worst month on the stock market since the Great Depression, and consumers are feeling the pinch and hanging onto older vehicles, afraid to spend. 

R.L. Polk in a recent 2007 study found that the average age of autos on U.S. roads is 9.2 years, only tying a 2006 study.  Light truck ages are up to 7.1 years on average, the highest level since 1998.  However, efforts may be working -- Americans junked 13 million vehicles in 2007, or 5.2 percent of all vehicles, a rise from 5 percent in 2006.

California is offering a similar program to Texas.  California has the most vehicles in the nation, with 33 million cars and trucks, or 13.5 percent of the nation's auto fleet.  The state is offering $50 million a year to give lower-income the chance to enjoy newer vehicles.  The program will give those eligible either $1,500 for a new vehicle, or $500 to repair their current vehicle.  While the program from the state's Bureau of Automotive Repair is aimed to help lower income citizens it does not check or require specific levels of income.  The program scrapped 16,000 vehicles last year, replacing them with new vehicles.

The state remains concerned as the California's Air Resources Board predicted that by 2010, thirty percent of the state's vehicles will be 13 years old or more.

Finally, Canada is joining the U.S. in offering subsidies to scrap older cars.  Canada is launching a major program Jan. 1, which it hopes will get 50,000 vehicles off the road, or about 1 percent of the nation's fleet.  A total of $92 million has been allocated to the program.  Vehicles must be running to qualify.  The three-year program will offer citizens $300 cash or a discount on a bicycle or a public transit pass in exchange for their old car.  Canada's environment minister John Baird states that the program will "get Canadian's smog-causing, gas-guzzlers off the road."

Local Canadian governments also have a variety of programs, some of which are ongoing, others which are complete.  These programs include the "Cash for Klunkers" in Kelowna, British Columbia; "Bye Bye Beaters" in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Nova Scotia; and "Steer Clean" in Halifax.

While eliminating old autos certainly provides environmental benefits in cleaner and more limited emissions and provides consumers with more safety, reliability, and cost savings in gas, the programs remain controversial.  For the time being though, it appears that if anything the subsidies will only see increased adoption across the nation, thanks to strong reception.





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