Sales of the Chrysler 200 were originally over-reported.
The largest difference between Fiat Chrysler’s originally reported monthly sales figures from 2015 and their subsequent restatement so far revolves around the Chrysler 200 sedan — a car the automaker invested in heavily and needed to be a hit.
With three months of restated monthly sales totals on the books and a fourth due this week, the totals show FCA’s midsize sedan was far less popular than originally reported.
During the three-month period encompassing July, August and September 2015, FCA US originally reported that it sold 21 percent more Chrysler 200s (8,577 vehicles) than the restated numbers it now claims are accurate for the period show.
Of the 25 nameplates for which it reported sales in July, August and September of both 2015 and 2016, the automaker now says that it over-reported sales of 14 nameplates and underreported sales of 11.
The total deviation for the period: 7,547 vehicles. That means FCA originally reported 7,547 more vehicles in its monthly sales reports in July, August and September 2015 but later disavowed those figures under its revised 2016 sales methodology.
FCA declined to comment on the differences. The company has said it is cooperating with a federal investigation into its previous sales reporting.
So why the differences?
In explaining FCA’s new sales reporting methodology in July, the automaker said it would include all dealer-reported sales net of unwound transactions recorded to the end of the sales month, fleet sales delivered directly by FCA and other retail sales, including vehicles sold in Puerto Rico and those delivered for FCA employees’ use.
Dave Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific, said FCA, like other automakers, relies on its dealers to report sales accurately, and dealers “are human beings. We should always expect some sort of error from all companies.”
The vehicle with the second-biggest difference in FCA’s sales reporting was the Dodge Charger, with 2,258 over-reported sales. The Dodge Journey was next, with 1,170 underreported sales, while the Jeep Patriot was the only other vehicle with a four-digit deviation. Its sales were underreported by 1,155 vehicles over the three-month period.
Sullivan said the fact that the sales reporting on the Chrysler 200 was so vastly different from the rest of FCA’s lineup could have its own origin.
“There was a lot of pressure on the 200 to offset the loss of sales from discontinuing the Dodge Avenger,” Sullivan said, recalling the $1 billion FCA invested in its Sterling Heights Assembly Plant to build its new midsize sedan. “FCA was under pressure to deliver a midsize car that could compete with the Accord and Camry after they emerged from bankruptcy. They were vilified for not offering competitive cars after we saw gas spike to $4. The 200 was meant to show how FCA was committed to offering passenger cars that could compete.”
That pressure, both external and internal, may have been a primary driver behind the large difference between the original and restated Chrysler 200 sales numbers.
FCA has since announced that it plans to retool the Sterling Heights plant to body-on-frame construction to build the next generation of the Ram 1500 pickup. The unibody tooling that was installed to build the 200 will be removed after the car ends production in December.
Last week, CEO Sergio Marchionne said he had “nothing to announce” when asked about FCA’s promise to replace the 200 and Dodge Dart in dealer lineups after FCA stops building both slow-selling sedans.
When it reported September sales this month, FCA included a note to restate its previous sales restatement.
The company said it had “performed a further detailed analysis of sales under the new methodology and has made adjustments in its reported U.S. sales.” FCA said the most recent set of revisions “in aggregate correct a small underreporting across the 2011-2016 period” that altered the restated numbers “less than 3.4 [percent] in any single month; 0.6 [percent] in any single year and 0.04 [percent] over the entire period.”
In comments in August explaining the ongoing sales reporting issue, Marchionne said the automaker had inherited its sales reporting system and failed to alter it when Fiat took control of Chrysler in 2009. But he expressed confidence in the “absolute intellectual integrity” of the company’s new sales reporting system.
“It’s not subject to multiple answers; we give you the best view that we have,” he said.