In 2010, AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson told me about being in the office of a sales executive at a domestic automaker years earlier on the closing day of the month. An aide walks in and asks whether the executive wants a rental car deal for 75,000 vehicles assigned to that month or the next one. The exec’s reply: “Hmm, I think we need it this month. Put it in.”
Boom. The automaker’s monthly performance instantly looked 75,000 cars better.
Jackson shared the story to explain why he had just launched a monthly sales report for AutoNation. He aimed to bring more transparency to industry sales reporting and prod automakers into publicly dividing results into retail and fleet sales.
But Thursday, after a nearly six-year run, AutoNation, the country’s largest new-car retailer, said it would stop reporting monthly sales. What has changed?
“I’ve given up,” Jackson said.
It’s a pity, he said, because the industry could have used six years of sales growth to change some of its reporting practices for the better, starting with aligning the industry calendar to the actual calendar and reporting sales when the month really ends. In the digital age, there’s no reason not to, Jackson said.
The quirks of the reporting calendar meant that AutoNation’s 9 percent increase in December would mislead investors unless Jackson went out of his way to explain that sales were basically flat when adjusted for extra days logged before the automakers’ Jan. 5 sales announcements. So he went on CNBC, his regular monthly practice, and talked about that and the heavy discounting required to produce the December numbers. The price of AutoNation shares plunged after his explanation.
“It’s ridiculous that I have to get on the air and explain the industry calendar to make sense of sales,” Jackson said.
So he’s done.
“Industry sales reporting practice is not as straightforward and transparent as it should be, starting with the calendar, starting with officially saying what was retail, what was fleet. It’s not going to change,” Jackson said. “It is what it is, and I’ve moved on.”