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Is the FCA streak real?

by Bill Cawthon on

Automotive News’ Larry Vellequette reports that two unnamed sources inside FCA confirm that dealers did inflate sales numbers.

Vellequette’s sources cited a mid-2015 internal investigation that showed 5,000-6,000 sales that were reported but for which the was no actual buyer. Dealers would unwind the sales after their monthly reports had gone in.


When the results of the investigation were reported, one of the sources say that Reid Bigland, head of North American sales, ordered the practice to be ended. The same source told Mr. Vellequette that dealer complaints had reached the desk of FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne before Mr. Bigland’s actions, and that pressure on FCA field managers to maintain growth has caused the practice to resume.

If accurate, this report calls into question FCA’s streak of year-over-year sales gains, which currently stands at 75 months. It is the longest streak for any active automaker.

While the sources did not say how long a period the investigation covered, there was only one month between January and June where that quantity of sales would have made a difference in FCA’s streak. That was March 2015, when the year-over-year improvement was just 3,346 vehicles, a gain of 1.7%.

From January 2015 to June 2016, the average monthly increase was 12,410 vehicles, based on Allpar data. Aside from March 2015, there have been just three other months where the margin was less than 6,000 sales, the most recent being May 2016.

The sources attribute the inflated numbers to dealers under pressure from regional FCA sales managers who are eager to keep the streak going. Two dealers (in the same dealership group) have already filed a lawsuit over alleged prodding by FCA field personnel, but FCA has moved to have the case dismissed saying the claims are groundless.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice are currently investigating FCA’s sales reporting. The agencies have visited FCA’s U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills and regional sales offices, and have spoken with current and former FCA employees.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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