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Trucks win in Cash for Clunkers game

Because of distorted sales figures, Ford's Escape cross-over SUV, not the Focus small car, tops the list for most popular 'clunker' buy.

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By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com senior writer

According the government, the Ford Escape was the seventh most popular vehicle bought under Cash for Clunkers. But that was just the two-wheel-drive gasoline-powered Escape. There are five other versions that were counted separately.
Edmunds.com: Top Clunker Buys
The most purchased vehicles under Cash for Clunkers if 2WD and 4WD versions are included.
Rank Vehicle Includes Includes 4WD Includes Hybrid
1 Ford Escape Yes Yes
2 Ford Focus No No
3 Jeep Patriot Yes No
4 Dodge Caliber Yes No
5 Ford F-150 Yes No
6 Honda Civic No Yes
7 Chevrolet Silverado Yes Yes
8 Chevrolet Cobalt No No
9 Toyota Corolla No No
10 Ford Fusion Yes Yes

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- What are people trading their clunkers in for? It depends on who you ask.

The government's results showed small cars as the top choice for shoppers looking for Cash for Clunker deals. But an independent analysis by Edmunds.com disputed those results, and showed that two full-size trucks and a small crossover SUV were actually among the top-ten buys.

The discrepancy is a result of the methods used. Edmunds.com uses traditional sales measurements, tallying sales by make and model. The government uses a more arcane measurement method that subdivides models according to engine and transmission types, counting them as separate models.

For example, the Ford Escape is available in six different versions including two- and four-wheel drive and hybrid versions. The government counts each version as a different vehicle using guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency. Only the front wheel drive, non-hybrid version made the government's top ten list.

The Ford Escape crossover SUV, instead of being the seventh-most popular vehicle under the program, as the government ranked it, was actually the best seller, according to Edmunds.com. The government pegged the Ford Focus as the top seller.

Trucks tend to be available in more variations than cars. That's because truck buyers have a wider variety of needs than car buyers, General Motors spokesman Brian Goebel said.

"There's just so many different uses for the truck, both retail and commercial, than with car purchasers," he said.

Sales of truck models would tend to be heavily diluted using the government's method because practically each version counts as a different vehicle. The difference in tallying methods would not affect the overall totals of trucks, as opposed to cars purchased under the program, only the sales rankings of individual models.

Sales of GM's Silverado truck, under the government's counting method, were divided among five different versions. So were the Ford F-150s. If the different versions of these trucks were considered the same vehicle, as auto sales are normally reported, sales of these trucks would look much heftier.

In the Cash for Clunkers program, trucks are actually subject to lower fuel economy requirements than cars, so it surprised many analysts that trucks weren't more popular.

Edmunds.com's "Top Ten Clunker Buys" list is based on transaction data collected directly from dealers.

NHTSA, the agency responsible for running Cash for Clunkers, was not immediately able to respond to a request for official Clunker sales tallies of several vehicles, including all their variations. When presented with Edmund's analysis, the agency didn't dispute that the way in which it counted the vehicles would tend to reduce the totals of vehicles with many variations. To top of page

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