Sales numbers tell the story. There are no better benchmarks. You can talk about other indicators, such as shareholder value and market share, but when it's all said and done, as Bob Rewey of Ford says, it's about moving the iron.
When you talk to executives about how their companies are doing, it is usually transparent. If sales are going through the roof, you'll hear about sales, period. All they will talk about is how many cars and trucks they're selling and the increase over last year.
The same is true at any dealership. It's simply up or down: I sold more than last year or last month, or I didn't. That makes it easy to keep score.
When business starts to head South, there are suddenly other statistics to consider. People talk about shareholder value. They'll say that profitability is what you want to concentrate on because volume doesn't really matter. Or perhaps they'll tell you that their market share among 55- to 70-year-olds has increased dramatically or that they have had a dramatic decrease in their days' supply. They will talk about anything except the fact that people aren't buying as many cars from them as they did last month or last year.
I miss the 10-day sales reports. For years, the Big 3 and a few importers reported retail sales three times a month. Chrysler stopped in January 1991. General Motors and Ford followed suit three years later. They didn't like them.
In a speech at the Automotive News World Congress several years ago, former Chrysler Corp. Vice Chairman Ben Bidwell likened a 10-day sales report to a 10-day no-cut contract. Although automakers don't report 10-day sales anymore, they still must track them.
This year, both sides will be busy. For example, we'll probably see simple press releases saying Brand A is up 14 percent in March and 16 percent for the year. Meanwhile, Brand B will tell the world that sales don't really matter, and it's important to get inventories in line because as long as inventories are balanced everything is OK, and, oh yes , we happened to be down 22 percent in March.
It will be a seesaw year for many automakers.
The public relations experts will use every adjective in the dictionary in trying to explain most months - that is, unless they happen to be up 10 percent.