For the longstanding auto industry tradition of reporting monthly new-vehicle sales, the dominoes are falling.
In fact, the game now is, more or less, over.
Audi, BMW, Nissan, Porsche and Volkswagen have made back-to-back announcements that they will stop reporting their model-by-model monthly sales results across the U.S., switching instead to quarterly reports. Toyota has joined the rebellion by brands that represent the bulk of U.S. sales, although last week it held out the possibility of at least making its monthly results available on a less formal basis.
The stampede away from tradition follows similar decisions by U.S. auto makers.
First, it was the California upstart Tesla refusing to go along with the industry establishment, providing only global quarterly results. In 2018, industry leader General Motors balked, saying it was done with the practice. And last year, GM's two Detroit competitors, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler, followed suit.
Many observers lay the disruption at the feet of Tesla.
The closely watched, publicly traded startup chose not to advertise its month-in, month-out achievements as it launched, and Wall Street didn't seem to mind its lack of transparency. Tesla's stock rose to unprecedented heights, making the company worth more on paper than GM and Ford combined.
"The auto industry is asking itself: 'Tesla doesn't do monthly reporting and they are being hugely rewarded, so why do we do it?' " Tyson Jominy, vice president of the Power Information Network at J.D. Power, told Automotive News.
Auto makers apparently see an opportunity to take a break from monthly pressures and find a truer picture of their market results, especially now, at a time of falling sales and shifting consumer preferences. Sales of some car models have plummeted in the past two years, but only because customers are driving off dealership lots in new crossovers instead of sedans.
"We think it's a good way for us to provide a clearer picture of the sales performance over a longer period of time," a Nissan spokesman said last week. "There's a lot of monthly variances in sales—there's spikes and troughs. We think this will just smooth those."
Added Jominy: "There's not a lot of good news to go around. So how many times in a year do you want to give bad news?"
Measuring quarterly instead of monthly also may paint a picture of a smoother sales year. Year-over-year monthly comparisons can garner big headlines among consumers but are sometimes misleading because of fluctuations in the number of selling days.
This year, an extra calendar weekend will boost sales volumes in February, May, October and December over 2019 tallies; March, June and November each will lose a weekend. And Labor Day weekend, typically the king of selling weekends, moved to August for 2019 but reverts to September this year.
The reporting change might also lead to healthier industry behavior.
The competitive pressure of the monthly "sales race" has fostered dubious practices and creative accounting. Auto makers have been accused of padding their numbers by coaxing retailers to register vehicles as sold when they are still in inventory. BMW is under scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission, accused of engaging in such tactics in the U.S.
Shifting to quarterly reporting will be good for both dealers and manufacturers, said Patrick Womack, general manager of Laurel BMW of Westmont in suburban Chicago. It takes off some of the pressure to hit 30-day sales targets, said Womack, who also is chairman of the BMW National Dealer Forum.
"We won't have to offer loser deals at month end," he said. "Little things disrupt the market month to month. So quarterly is probably the better and healthier way to look at sales performance."
But the impact will be felt by economists, industry analysts and corporate strategists, Jominy said. The monthly data has, for decades, been "a fantastic barometer" of consumer spending strength, he said.
"Economists look to the auto industry for signs of what's truly going on with consumer demand," Jominy said.
Those economists will soon have to find another way to read the tea leaves.