WASHINGTON — The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has opened a probe into BMW North America’s sales reporting practices, sources told The Wall Street Journal. BMW Group officials acknowledged they were contacted by the SEC and told the paper they will “fully” cooperate with the investigation.
Unnamed parties accused BMW Group of inflating U.S. reports through “sales punching,” a legally dubious practice in which unsold units are registered as sold — sometimes to the dealer — but remain in inventory or are cycled in and out of demo, loaner, or rental service, then sold as low-mileage pre-owned units.
Accusations of falsified sales reports are not uncommon in the auto retail industry. Writing for Automotive News in March 2016, Jesse Snyder noted the annual discrepancy between reported deliveries and actual new vehicle registrations had grown to 286,832 units the year before.
Willisch told attendees “it happens” in response to a question about new units self-registered as loaners.
The next day, BMW North America President and CEO Ludwig Willisch told attendees of the J.D. Power Automotive Forum that “it happens” in response to a question about new units self-registered as loaners.
More recently, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles agreed to pay $40 million to settle charges of misreporting U.S. sales through a series of press releases issued from 2012 to 2016. The releases, which perpetuated the false conceit the Italian and American factory enjoyed a multiyear steak of monthly year-over-year increases, were included in SEC filings.
Officials said their investigation revealed FCA had spiffed dealers who reported phantom sales and maintained a “cookie jar” of delivered units not yet reported as sold, presumably to maintain the appearance of consistent gains.