Consumers cashed in on clunkers and an auto mogul's empire crumbled in 2009.
The consumer response to the government's Cash for Clunkers program surprised area dealers and officials as interest swamped computers and showrooms. The economic stimulus program was aimed at putting people in more fuel-efficient vehicles as older models were used for trade-ins and sent to the scrap heap.
Dealers in the lakes area reported Cash for Clunkers, while initially understaffed and flawed - particularly in a cumbersome system to qualify buyers - did bring in vehicle shoppers who could save thousands of dollars in purchasing a new vehicle.
As of Sept. 17, the CARS program reported that 511,869 vouchers had been paid for a dollar value of $2,157,430,500, with another 77,171 vouchers approved for payment with a dollar value of $324,167,500.
Inventory was noticeably thinned on dealer lots in the aftermath.
Walser Automotive Group bought Denny Hecker's Toyota/Scion dealership in Baxter and reopened it just after Thanksgiving. Dispatch file photo » Purchase reprints of this photo.
For much of the year, Baxter's Toyota dealership was the last horse in auto magnate Denny Hecker's stable. Hecker's slide into financial ruin left the dealership and employees in limbo as Hecker's public and messy divorce and bankruptcy court proceedings made headlines. Hecker closed or sold 25 of his 26 dealerships, making the Toyota/Scion business in Baxter his only remaining dealership. Dondelinger Chevrolet-Cadillac bought Hecker's Brainerd Hyundai dealership earlier in the year. Walser Automotive Group bought the Toyota/Scion dealership in Baxter and reopened it just after Thanksgiving.
Hecker was sued by business arms of several automakers for hundreds of millions of dollars. In June, the State Patrol searched his property, including his home on Cross Lake during a criminal investigation. Hecker filed for personal bankruptcy protection in June, saying he owed up to $1 billion to up to 1,000 creditors.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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