CHICAGO — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has settled an antitrust lawsuit brought by seven dealers led by Ed Napleton, owner and president of the 48-rooftop Ed Napleton Auto Group. The OEM’s U.S. unit was accused of paying some dealers to falsely report thousands of end-of-month sales which were then unwound the next day.
“FCA US is pleased we could reach an amicable resolution to this matter,’’ executives said in a statement.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Chicago in 2016 and was expected to go to trial sometime this year. The factory was accused of racketeering, breach of contract, and violations of federal antitrust statutes and dealer-protection laws in Illinois, Florida, and other states; the racketeering charge was dismissed.
Napleton claimed FCA executives offered him $20,000 to add 40 new units to a monthly sales report from his Arlington Heights, Ill., Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership, revealing an employee there had inflated a prior report by 16 units without his knowledge. Napleton said he refused and later learned competing dealers had reported a total of 85 false sales.
FCA “stacked the deck’’ against the plaintiffs “by soliciting fraudulent sales reports from certain dealers, and by using the numbers generated from these false sales to further subsidize plaintiffs’ competing dealers and to allocate hotter-selling vehicles to them,’’ charging documents read, in part.
Terms of the settlement are confidential. Last week, Napleton told Automotive News all seven of his Fiat Chrysler stores remained open and “in good standing” with the factory.
FCA still faces a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation triggered by a recalculation of sales that followed the dealer suit. The recount revealed the company’s widely touted five-year, post-2009 bankruptcy sales-growth streak was overstated by three years, leading officials at the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice to question whether investors were intentionally misled.