Inquiries about the US government’s new ‘cash for clunkers’ scrappage scheme are flooding in, according to media reports, fueling hopes the programme will boost the country’s desperately flagging new car market.

The department of transportation said nearly 16,000 car dealers had signed up for the programme since Friday, the first day the government made available cash vouchers for trading in old cars for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Meanwhile, a government hotline handled more than 45,000 calls and the scheme’s web site registered 1.5m hits over the weekend.

Dealers reported interest in the programme had been “startlingly” high although buyers, for the most part, were planning to buy a new vehicle soon regardless of the incentive.

However the programme has also thrown up some problems with dealers saying they were unable to find scrapyards willing to take old cars. A sale would be approved only after the dealer provided proof the old vehicle would be destroyed.

As the scheme took off, about half of American consumers said they were more likely to buy a vehicle from Ford because it had decided not to take loans from the US government.

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Rasmussen Reports in New Jersey said two-thirds of respondents had a favorable opinion of Ford compared to 38% for General Motors and 34% for Chrysler – which did accept federal aid.

Some 13% said a friend or relative had already purchased a Ford specifically because the company did not ask for government loans. More than half said bailout loans had no effect on their decision about which domestic brand to buy. But nearly the same number thought the US government might pass laws or regulations that favoured Chrysler and GM over Ford.

Rasmussen said about 75% of Americans didn’t think the US government should have taken majority control of GM. Nearly one in five said consumers should protest by boycotting GM products.

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Dealers control scheme