'Cash for clunkers' a clinker? Q & A with Edmunds.com

Update: The "Cash for Clunkers" program was suspended late today.

As the "cash for clunkers" program kicked into high gear this week and dealers started accepting trade-ins, automakers heralded the new effort as a way to boost sales, national energy security, and the environment in one fell swoop.

The program quickly tallied nearly $100 million in rebate claims, but some critics have called into question key tenets of the program. I spoke to Jessica Caldwell, an auto analyst at car rating and consulting company Edmunds.com. Here are edited excerpts of that interview.

DailyFinance: So we are hearing mixed reviews of the "cash for clunkers" program.

Caldwell: Yes, many people have been very disappointed. They hear the program title and they have a clunker in their driveway that's 15 years old. But it's a Honda Civic and they can't trade it in because of the stringent fuel requirements even if its emissions are significantly worse than those of newer cards. On the environmental side, you could participate in this program and not help the environment much at all.