General Motors needs to rethink its myopic plan to stop publicly disclosing monthly vehicle production numbers that are used by economists, analysts, investors, suppliers and dealers to forecast business and make decisions that affect the entire U.S. economy.
Officially, GM says production numbers provide "an incomplete data set to look at" when considering the performance of GM's North American operations. GM says it will eliminate regional production reports and will not release global numbers to analysts, although it will provide at least some of the monthly production numbers to the Federal Reserve for its reports on economic output.
GM's explanation seems similar to some of the lame excuses used two decades ago when automakers stopped providing the public with retail sales reports every 10 days. Some said 10-day reports were too susceptible to variation caused by incentives, regional weather patterns or other exogenous factors.
But the 10-day reports were useful to forecasters, economists, investors and others. Those who relied on the 10-day sales results were forced to develop other sources of the vital midmonth sales data, most of which are estimates based on extrapolation data samples.
Some small companies never reported sales more than once a month, and the international brands issued 10-day reports only for vehicles built in America; sales of imported units were reported at month end. In the early 1980s, American Motors stopped 10-day reports for a while but started again after analysts too often erroneously estimated AMC's 10-day numbers.
The old Chrysler Corp. eliminated 10-day reports in 1991, but it wasn't until after GM ended the practice as of January 1994 that 10-day sales reports were doomed. Now economists and analysts fear that if GM withholds monthly production data other automakers could follow suit.
One logical explanation is that GM must be trying to hide something. But that doesn't make sense, now that the company seems to be gaining momentum on several fronts.
Perhaps because CEO Dan Akerson says the era of "Government Motors" is over, the company is pushing back to escape the brilliant glare of public scrutiny because it believes it can.
Whatever the underlying reason, it is a wrongheaded decision that could cause corollary damage across the economy.
If the decision makers at GM sincerely believe it is in the company's self-interest -- and the public's best interest -- to withhold monthly production data because sales data that include globally sourced vehicles are more representative of its financial situation, GM ought to lead the industry in providing more such sales data -- say, every 10 days.