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An Era Ends as Detroit Automakers Cease Monthly Sales Reports

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

COMMENTARY

In the end, neither Ford Motor Co. nor FCA US LLC could resist a move General Motors Co. made last year. As a result, the era of monthly vehicle sales reports — at least among U.S.-based automakers — will soon end.

GM said in April 2018, it was shifting to reporting deliveries on a quarterly basis. Here’s a short excerpt from that announcement.

“Thirty days is not enough time to separate real sales trends from short-term fluctuations in a very dynamic, highly competitive market,” said Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president, Sales Operations. “Reporting sales quarterly better aligns with our business, and the quality of information will make it easier to see how the business is performing.”
(snip)

GM’s high level of transparency on total, brand and nameplate sales, fleet mix and inventory will not change.

Ford waited for a while, but shifted to quarterly sales reports this year. Ford even mimicked GM’s language about how monthly reporting is bad, quarterly reporting is good. Oh, yes, Ford said, it’s also more transparent.

On May 1, FCA fell into line.

“A quarterly sales reporting cadence will continue to provide transparency of our sales results while at the same time aligning with where industry practice is heading,” said Niel Golightly, FCA’s Chief Communications Officer.

That word, transparency, again. Of course, it’s always more transparent to report data less frequently than more frequently. Right?

Now, truth be told, Detroit’s auto media always had a mixed reaction. Reporting the monthly sales numbers made for a long day. “Sales day” was the first of the month, unless holidays or weekends shifted it.

What’s more, it meant waiting on separate reports from automakers. The numbers are given out at various times throughout the day. Then, they’d have to be compiled into some kind of industrywide figure.

“What is THE THEME?”

The scribes given the task of trying to make sense and spot trends often had editors second guessing them. (“What is THE THEME? We need a THEME!”)

On occasion, coming up with a theme was easy. In the 2000s, the Detroit-area automakers came up with promotions to juice sales such as no-interest financing or employee prices for all. Other months? Some were a mixed bag where discerning the theme (or “THE THEME!”) was more difficult.

The thing is, monthly sales seemed like Easy Street for a long time. The industry used to report sales every 10 days. That ended after Chrysler (now part of FCA) decided such a schedule  was pretty intense. So, in late 1990, Chrysler was the leader in switching to monthly. It took a while, but GM, Ford and other automakers followed suit.

Now, monthly sales have been deemed by automakers to be a burden. Twelve sales releases a year will be cut to four at GM, Ford and FCA. And it wouldn’t be surprising if international automakers selling in the U.S. also went to that schedule. If that happens, maybe those companies, too, will talking about transparency.

Industry Shifts

These changes are occurring as the industry faces major changes. Automakers are investing heavily in self-driving and electric vehicles. It’s possible ride-sharing services may result in lower deliveries over time. Also, millennials may not be as interested in owning vehicles the way previous generations were.

A more short-term trend is that U.S. vehicle sales are cooling off after four consecutive years of 17 million or more. GM, Ford and FCA are mostly getting out of the car business (where sales are plunging) to concentrate on pickups, crossovers and SUVs.

In short, a cyclical industry faces short- and long-term challenges. Had Detroit continued with monthly sales reports, it was likely there’d be some bumpy months. Quarterly sales reports may (or may not) smooth out the rough edges.

And that is the theme (or THE THEME) for this column.

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