The government's Cash for Clunkers program has been a big hit with consumers who have jumped at the ability to get up to $4,500 of a new-car purchase, helping to clear cars off deal lots.
But as the Senate now considers adding another $2 billion to the initial $1 billion for the program, some are questioning the benefits of this program for the larger economy.
"This proves one thing: If you hand out money on the street corner, people will take it," said James L. Gattuso, a senior fellow in regulatory policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
The top 10 selling cars so far through the program, according to the Department of Transportation, are: the Ford Focus FWD, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry, Ford Escape FWD, Hyundai Elantra, Dodge Caliber, Honda Fit and last the Chevrolet Cobalt.
Gattuso warned that while people might be buying cars the gains from their purchases won't overcome the lost economic activity from using the government dollars for more productive programs.
"The money has to be taxed or borrowed. It doesn't come from thin air," Gattuso said. "You aren't going to fix the economy by the government being the consumer and paying for consumption directly.
"Is the government going to be the consumer of last report?" Gattuso added. "I don't think that's a viable economic plan."
Supporters, however, say the program is just the jump-start the economy needs and that the purchase of a car ripples throughout the economy, helping many sectors from part suppliers to steelmakers.
Ford Monday reported its first U.S. sales increase in nearly two years, largely thanks to the Cash for Clunkers program, officially known as Car Allowance Rebate System, or CARS.
On 'Good Morning America" today financial correspondent, Bianna Golodryga said she contacted four dealers; one in Los Angeles, Houston, Ohio and New Jersey, and that each said sales had increased 10 percent to 15 percent since January.
"They attribute one-third of that to the Cash for Clunkers program. it does seem to be working," Golodryga said.
July sales of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury light vehicles rose 1.6 percent from the same month last year. It was the first year-over-year rise since November 2007. Ford sold 158,354 vehicles, a 2.2 percent increase over June's figures, showing that the worst U.S. auto sales slump in a quarter-century may be easing.
Things were not as upbeat at Chrysler, where sales fell 9.4 percent compared with last year. But even that was still good news because the drop was not as steep as prior months' declines. General Motors reported a sales drop 19 percent from a year ago, and Honda was down 17.3 percent.
Subaru saw its U.S. sales leap a whopping 34 percent in July, and Hyundai said its sales jumped 12 percent. Toyota, which has struggled through the recession, saw an 11 percent drop, but that too was slower than past declines.
"As long as the government can keep pushing this Cash for Clunkers, the autos are going to just keep acting great," said Patrick Casey, a trader with WJ Blum and Sons.