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According to Edmunds, only 125,000 of the 690,000 cars sold during the taxpayer-funded promotion were sales inspired by the program as opposed to those that would have happened anyway. Edmunds then divided that number by the total price tag and voilà: Each car purchased cost the American taxpayer $24,000.

Besides the no-nonsense price tag (an Edmunds’ specialty) there’s nothing new about the premise of the report, Anwyl contends. (The White House used dealer reports to highlight the program’s success while Edmunds used comparative historical sales figures to get its numbers.)

“We got real math behind this for the first time,” says Mr. Anwyl in a phone interview, before landing a friendly jab referencing this summer's "Beer Summit" at the White House. “We need to send an invitation to the President to come out, we’ll have a beer and a photo opportunity, and walk him through the data. He might find it eye-opening.”

More seriously, Anwyl says: “It’s shocking and somewhat troubling that this is something the White House would pick up. This administration more than any other administration is invested heavily in the auto industry, so you would hope that they would had done a little more homework than their response suggests.”

The White House post instead quoted the President’s own Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) pointing out that the program increased GDP by 1.7 percent in the third quarter and will create 70,000 jobs in the second half of 2009. It took issue with Edmunds’ notion that 80 percent of the payback from the program will take place in 2009, leaving little residual effect on the auto industry into 2010.

“In other words,” writes Macon Phillips, the White House’s "new media" chief, “all the other cars were being sold on Mars while the rest of the country was caught up in the excitement of the Cash for Clunkers program. The CEA’s analysis is transparent and comprehensive …, on the other hand, is promoting a bombastic press release without any public access to their underlying analysis. So put on your space suit and compare the two approaches yourself.”

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