The scheme, which offers €2,500 cash to anyone who trades in their old car and buys a new one, has reportedly done much to protect the German car industry from the worst of the economic downturn.
Some dealers have featured in news reports talking about a flood of customers coming in, cash in hand, ready to buy new cars.
But the Welt am Sonntag-commissioned study by the Institute for Economic Research in Halle showed that 75 percent of those who took the €2,500 would have bought a new car this year even without the cash incentive.
Even if the collapse in sales early in the year, which sparked the scheme, had continued, only 500,000 cars would not have been sold, the paper says.
In order to influence the buying behaviour of one person, three others have been paid the money when they would have bought a new car anyway, the paper calculates.
Each new car bought as a direct result of the cash for clunkers scheme has actually cost the tax-payer €10,000, the paper reports.
But Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück was unapologetic, his spokesman defending the scheme and telling the paper, “We don't expect anyone to buy a new car just because of the premium. It was our intention that someone who wants to buy a new car does it now and does not wait until 2010 to spend the money.”