In 2010, AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson told me about being in the office of a domestic automaker sales executive 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's changed?
"I've given up," Jackson said.
It's a pity, Jackson said, because the industry still needs to clean up its reporting practices, say by aligning the industry calendar to the actual calendar and reporting sales when the month really ends.
The quirks of the reporting calendar meant that AutoNation's 9 percent increase in December might have misled investors. So Jackson went on CNBC -- his monthly routine -- and explained that sales were basically flat when adjusted for extra days logged before the automakers announced sales on Jan. 5. He also discussed the heavy discounting seen in December. AutoNation's stock 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."