Fiat Chrysler Facing Investigations Into Its Sales Reporting

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (NYSE:FCAU) announced in a statement that federal investigators are examining its U.S. sales reporting practices. The automaker said in its statement that it is “cooperating with an (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) investigation into the reporting of vehicle unit sales to end customers in the U.S.” The Department of Justice is also investigating whether the carmaker violated U.S. securities laws.

Separate media reports regarding the investigations emerged before Fiat Chrysler confirmed them. Midday Monday, Bloomberg News reported on the Justice Department investigation, followed Monday afternoon by a report on Automotive News about investigators from the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission visiting Fiat Chrysler field staff in their homes and offices. A Fiat Chrysler spokeswoman declined to comment outside the company’s statement.

Two Fiat Chrysler dealerships owned by Illinois-based Napleton Automotive Group filed a civil racketeering suit against the automaker in January. Among other claims, the lawsuit alleged that the company financially rewarded retailers for falsifying sales. Amended in March to add more details and dealerships, the complaint says Fiat Chrysler’s North American-based operation “knowingly endorses and encourages the false reporting of motor vehicle sales by directly rewarding its district managers and business center directors with monetary and quarterly bonuses which are directly related to reported vehicle sales numbers.”

The suit specifically alleges that dealership principal Edward Napleton was asked by Fiat Chrysler to falsely report sales of 40 vehicles in exchange for $20,000 in incentives to the dealer. According to the complaint, the proposal was “immediately rejected.” The suit also said Napleton told Fiat Chrysler’s business center workers to refrain from such practices. Fiat Chrysler has said the “claim is without merit.”

In March, Fiat Chrysler tried to have the suit dismissed. It said each of the plaintiff’s claims are based on nothing but raw conclusions. The judge has yet not ruled on Fiat Chrysler’s request to dismiss the case. The lawsuit apparently sparked the investigations by federal authorities. On July 11, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents visited the homes of nine Fiat Chrysler regional managers.

The company described how it records its shipments in its statement, saying, “In its annual and quarterly financial statements, FCA records revenues based on shipments to dealers and customers and not on reported vehicle unit sales to end customers.” The company recorded 69 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains prior to the lawsuit. However, starting with March sales, Fiat Chrysler stopped mentioning the sales streak.