Revised reporting ends FCA’s sales streak in 2013

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has revised its sales reporting practices in the United States amid federal investigations and claims of inflated sales.

The automaker’s North American-based operations FCA US on Tuesday detailed its sales reporting practices and announced a new methodology that will focus on being more transparent and consistent when reporting consumer and fleet sales.

The objective of this new methodology, the company said, “is to provide in FCA US’s judgment the best available estimate of the number of FCA US vehicles sold to end users through the end of a particular month applying a consistent and transparent methodology.” It is meant to eliminate many subjective estimates — particularly for fleet sales — as possible.

Under the new process, FCA US’ impressive sales streak of 70-plus months would have ended in September 2013, according to an analysis released by the company of sales since 2011. The so-called “sales streak” would have stopped after 40 months and would have had three additional periods of sequential year-over-year improvements of 22, 8, and 1 months.

However overall the automaker would have actually sold just under 19,000 more vehicles through that five-rear time period, with the company overstating sales for 30 months and understating sales for 36 months.

Annual sales volumes under the new methodology for each year in the 2011-2016 period are within approximately 0.7 percent of the annual unit sales volumes previously reported, the company said.

Fiat Chrysler’s U.S. sales were up about 6 percent to 1.15 million vehicles through the first six months of the year under the previous methodology. Under the new system, they would be up about 5 percent to more than 1.14 million sold.

Retail sales data will continue to be collected from the dealers through a reporting system called the New Vehicle Delivery Report, or NVDR, but take into account and better address so-called “unwind,” or back out, sales that allow dealers to report a vehicle as sold but take the sale back before the factory warranty on the vehicles could be processed and start to run.

FCA US on Tuesday said it is possible for a dealer to unwind a transaction recorded in the NVDR system and return the vehicle to the dealer’s unsold inventory, citing “unwinds may, and in fact do, occur for a number of reasons including: inability of the retail customer to finalize financing for the purchase or a change in customer preferences, among others.”

Automotive News reported on Monday, citing company sources, that an internal review at FCA US had found that its U.S. sales figures were inflated by 5,000 to 6,000 vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler on Tuesday said recent media reports have “mistakenly suggested that potential inaccuracies in the monthly data somehow impact the integrity of FCA’s reported revenues in its financial statements,” citing retail unit sales “has no impact on the revenue reported by FCA in its financial statements.”

Consumer sales are one of three main components used to determine FCA US monthly sales. The others include: Sales of vehicles shipped directly by FCA US to fleet customers; and other retail sales including sales by dealers in Puerto Rico, limited deliveries through distributors and a small number of vehicles delivered to FCA employees and retirees and vehicles used for marketing.

The new methodology comes a week after FCA US confirmed it is “cooperating with an (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) investigation into the reporting of vehicle unit sales to end customers in the U.S.” It went on to say it “will cooperate fully” with “inquires into similar issues” recently made by the U.S. Department of Justice.

FCA US spokeswoman Shawn Morgan had “no comment” on how or if the new sales methodology will impact the investigations, which have not been formally announced.

Federal officials last week declined to comment on the investigations.

The investigations apparently stem from two Fiat Chrysler dealerships owned by Illinois-based Napleton Automotive Group. They filed a civil racketeering suit against the automaker in January, alleging the company, among other claims, offered dealers money to report unsold vehicles as sold. That complaint was amended in March to include additional Napleton-owned dealerships and to amend and add other details, according to court records.

FCA US at the time of the lawsuit had recorded 69 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains. However, starting with March sales, Fiat Chrysler stopped mentioning the sales streak in monthly press releases and added sections about determining monthly sales and forward-looking statements.

In March, Fiat Chrysler attempted to have the Napleton dealerships’ suit dismissed. It said the “plaintiffs have not, and cannot, remedy the gaping holes in the amended Complaint, because each of their claims is based on nothing but raw conclusions.”

The judge has not ruled on Fiat Chrysler’s request to dismiss the case, according to court documents.

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Twitter: @MikeWayland