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The NHTSA Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) website had a number of updates today. On www.cars.gov we were able to view the beginings of the official Cash for Clunkers dealer directory. The directory can be found by clicking on the "Dealer Locator" tab on the top of the cars.gov website.
The purpose of the directory is to provide an easy way for consumers to see which dealers in their area have registered for the CARS program.
In theory sounds like a perfect way to validate which dealers have completed the required CARS registration process. However, the current design is a perfect example of the disconnect between required "data" and "consumer usable data".
The data that the NHTSA collected online from car dealers may not have included a pratical translation of their official corporate name to a retail business name a consumer would recognize. The other possibility is that the web designers are using the wrong data fields to display public data for the directory.
Since I live in New Jersey, I did a search of all the dealers that were registered in New Jersey as July 25, 2009. Only 22 dealers were showing on the registered dealer list. The list includes a corporate name, corporate address and phone number.
Amongst these 22 dealers were these four cryptic businesses names:
There is no translation of a corporate name to the actual public dealership names represented by these corporations. So consumers will have to call the phone numbers associated with these corporate names to see who they are. My guess is that they will not take the time to call; this is bad for car dealerships listed above.
I called the phone number listed for OCT PARTNERSHIP and it was the number for Gateway Toyota. Why the NHTSA does not list Gateway Toyota in the directory, we don't know. We hope that as we bring this up in this post that someone in the NHTSA will move to make the dealer directory more practical for consumers.
In its current form, consumers may not find a dealer in the directory and assume that they are not registered. This would be a loss for car dealers that have a corporate name that differs from the retail franchise name. If someone was looking to see if Gateway Toyota was particpating, they would get the impression they were not particpating.
The NHTSA and their IT staff have had an impossible task to implement a nationwide registration system for the CARS program in approximately 30 days. The updates today to the website, including a new Fuel Economy website is very commendable.
We are just concerned that the data presented in the dealer directory in its current form is not practical and could be harmful for dealerships that appear not to be participating.
Dealers affected by this data display should contact the NHTSA to correct this matter.