AutoNation's Jackson wants makers to separate retail, fleet numbers

Mike Jackson’s aim in reporting AutoNation’s monthly sales? Clarifying the retail sales picture.

Jackson told me Wednesday he wants auto manufacturers to publicly divide results into retail and fleet sales. “Without that information, you can really disguise what’s going on in the industry and what’s going on with a specific company.”

He shares a story of sitting in the office of a domestic manufacturer’s senior vice president of sales and marketing several years ago. It’s the closing day of the month, one hour before the numbers are locked down. An aide walks in and announces a rental car deal for 75,000 vehicles. “Do you want it this month or next month,” the aide asks. The executive replies, “Hmm, I think we need it this month. Put it in.”

Boom -- just like that, Jackson says, the manufacturer’s performance looks 75,000 cars better.

And without transparency on fleet sales, industry record keepers -- including Automotive News -- understate days-supply calculations by 30 percent, Jackson chides. The danger? Inventory levels, finally at reasonable levels after years of bloat, could spike again.

Jackson says he’s pressured the manufacturers to break tradition, to little avail. So now he’s establishing his own, starting with last week’s May report.

“If it leads to other publicly traded groups reporting, all the better,” he said. “If it leads to a breakthrough with the manufacturers that they’re finally honest and transparent ... maybe it leads someplace, maybe it doesn’t. But I feel better.”