Executives routinely say that being No. 1 in sales doesn't really matter. Don't believe them.
There seems to be some cooking the books in the American market because of the quiet war -- or, to be polite, competition -- for sales leadership in the luxury market.
It's ridiculous. Brands such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW, the two biggest adversaries, have such wide model ranges -- from less expensive models to the highest-priced vehicles -- that it seems silly to call them luxury brands.
But if they want to be No. 1, they shouldn't worry that there will be an asterisk by their sales numbers. This isn't like the end of 1998, when Cadillac fudged its sales by thousands of cars to retain the luxury sales title. That probably cost Cadillac General Manager John Smith a lot of bonus money and a couple of promotions, although he stayed at GM until retiring in 2010.
All I ask is that companies admit what they are doing and let the chips fall where they may. If they want to sell new cars to dealers and get them registered immediately, as BMW did in late July, that's fine. But let the world know what the numbers really are. They'll still be counted.
Don't make up car sales. That might cost you your job whether you win or lose a sales crown.
As long as companies are transparent, everyone -- competitors and dealers -- can understand what is going on and react accordingly.
For decades, creative accounting tricks for inflating sales results have been used in Europe; it's nothing new in the retail car business. But it makes the U.S. retail business very messy, and unless there is transparency, it's just a matter of time until some state's attorney general gets involved. Then it could get very ugly.
Mercedes is at a disadvantage and must be extremely cautious because just about everything the company does is under scrutiny as a result of the 2010 settlement with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission of complaints that improper payments were made to government officials in 22 countries to win contracts for Daimler vehicles.
BMW needs to practice transparency in the United States or risk the consequences.
Auto execs will tell you that being first doesn't really matter. Unless you finish second.