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Retire Your Ride – Canada’s Vehicle Recycling Program

What’s in a name? Plenty if you wanted to compare Canada’s efforts to the USA CARS program.

Retire Your Ride is the program in Canada comparable to the USA’s Cash For Clunkers program. The concept is generally the same – remove older higher polluting vehicles, but the goals, finances, timeframes, participants and legacies are dramatically different. And the nicknames also help describe the philosophical differences between the two initiatives – Cash For Clunkers or Canada’s Vehicle Recycling Program. Which do you think is doing a better job for auto recyclers?

Canada’s program was born over 8 years ago when the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association partnered with the Clean Air Foundation (CAF) to consolidate our charity vehicle programs under one banner – Car Heaven. That program targeted pre-1996 running vehicles by offering incentives to their owners to voluntarily retire their vehicle. GM Canada eventually partnered with the program and offered $1,000 off of a new GM vehicle. The vehicles were all processed by members of the Automotive Recyclers of Canada (ARC) association.

In conjunction with ARC, CAF approached Environment Canada to introduce a larger program and this led to Retire Your Ride. In Budget 2007, the federal government allocated $92 million over 3 years to retire pre-1996 vehicles and ensure that all vehicles entering the program were properly retired. They utilized ARC as the technical experts on the industry and we wrote the Code of Practice that all participants on the program must follow.

Today, vehicle donors can receive $300 cash, $500 bicycle discounts, transit discounts, autoshare rebates – a variety of modest incentives, some with a sustainable transportation bent to them Most interestingly, the auto manufacturers have jumped on board – with their own money – and are providing additional incentives of up to $3,000. So far Hyundai, GM, Ford, Chrysler and Volkswagon have all signed on and are aggressively promoting the program.

Like Cash For Clunkers, the media has our industry under a very positive spotlight. Some of the publicity is negative, but its universally about the program not auto recyclers – some people deem the $300 cash as too little to buy a new vehicle. And we agree – but the program was never established as a short term economic stimulus project. It was to engage Canadians to understand the environmental effect of their older vehicle, and if they wanted to retire it early, here is a program that will provide a modest reward and we will ensure the vehicle is properly retired by the proper industry.

In addition to media coverage, governments of all levels have taken an unprecedented look at our industry, and it has allowed our various legislative agendas to be pushed ahead faster. Never has it been easier to meet with high ranking politicians of all stripes to educate them on the problems and opportunities that abound in our industry. We are also having more and more first hand discussions with the auto makers themselves.

Because auto recyclers were intimately involved in establishing the program, and ARC continues to act in a consulting capacity to CAF and Environment Canada, we have succeeded in improving the industry, both in the short and long terms, our Members are processing more cars they can buy at the right price, and a legacy of educational resources and information have been developed.

ARC was originally contracted by Environment Canada to write the voluntary Code of Practice for auto recyclers to participate in the program. We were provided funding to deploy in-person training across Canada, and online training for recyclers to better understand that Code. We are also funded to deliver the auto recycler engagement portion of the program – to essentially “sell” the benefits of the program to auto recyclers, and indirectly to prevent non-recyclers from getting access to the program vehicles. Along the way we have provided innumerable media interviews and government debriefings. In short, Retire Your Ride has cemented ARC’s public profile as the go-to group representing the industry.

From north of the US border, Cash For Clunkers looks like it has been a mixed blessing for auto recyclers and perhaps the American public and economy. Big dollars spent quickly can have unintended consequences that are often not healthy. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

Now to the numbers – we are on track to retire about 60,000 vehicles across Canada in 2009 after only 9 months of activity, which compares well to the US numbers adjusting for population. But we will have spent 1/100th of the taxpayers money compared to the US experience, and the program will be running next year and probably the year after that. The vast majority of cars are processed by ARC Members, and we will have received millions of dollars of media coverage and lobbying opportunities. We are very happy with auto recycler benefits of Retire Your Ride.

This article has not meant to be a criticism of Cash For Clunkers or ARA’s efforts to craft a win out of this opportunity. On the contrary, given that it was a short term, quickly conceived, stimulus project aimed at satisfying dealers and manufacturers – auto recyclers have done OK with the program. Canada has developed a slow starting program that is still building, and with ARC near the centre of it all, we can help make sure this is one of the biggest wins for our industry ever.