Why GM decided to disclose less about incentives

UPDATED: 2/2/11 3:39 pm ET General Motors has settled on a strategy to quell industry chatter about a jump in its incentive spending: Disclose less.

GM sales chief Don Johnson said today that the automaker will be less forthcoming about its spiffs on a month-to-month basis. From now on, GM will talk about incentives and average transaction prices “directionally” but won't discuss specifics.

This comes as Edmunds.com reports that GM's average incentive per vehicle grew 29 percent in January to $3,762, the highest among large automakers. Johnson acknowledged a “modest” increase but wouldn't talk numbers.

“There's been a lot of noise out there in the system about sources of data, competitors saying this or that,” Johnson told analysts and reporters on a conference call. “We're just trying to take the noise out of the system.”

Thing is, keeping dealers, investors and others in the dark about GM's true incentive spend likely will only amplify the noise.

Johnson's remarks follow days of industry buzz about whether GM was loading on incentives to juice sales. Ford Motor Co. sales analyst George Pipas told reporters Monday that heavier incentives by GM could hurt Ford's market share.

To be fair, most other automakers are tight-lipped about their spiffs, as Johnson pointed out. And third-party data can be fuzzy. (Truecar.com, another research firm, said GM's incentive spending edged down in January.)

Still, GM had been more upfront about its incentives in recent months. With pricing restraint so critical to the industry's continued recovery, it's nice to hear about it straight from the source -- rather than the industry echo chamber.

Christopher Ceraso, a Credit Suisse analyst, might have summed it up best. He told GM officials that less transparency could be seen as a signal that GM is getting more aggressive on price and doesn't want to set off alarm bells.

“Generally,” he said, “less disclosure is bad.”

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