German carmaker Volkswagen has scrambled to correct itself after a marketing stunt calling attention to its electric vehicle backfired.
On Monday (US time), it was reported that company spokesman Mark Gillies insisted that VW would be renaming its US operations ‘VOLTSwagen of America’, which was followed up by a news release on Tuesday, saying the brand-name change reflected a shift to more battery-electric vehicles.
The news release, posted on its website and accompanied by tweets, was reported by Reuters and other outlets globally and included a detailed description of its purported rebranding efforts and new logos.
Late that same day, Mr Gillies confirmed it had all been a pre-April Fools’ Day joke.
“Volkswagen of America will not be changing its name to Voltswagen,” a statement from VW read.
“The renaming was designed to be an announcement in the spirit of April Fool’s Day, highlighting the launch of the all-electric ID.4 SUV and signalling our commitment to bringing electric mobility to all.”
We know, 66 is an unusual age to change your name, but we’ve always been young at heart. Introducing Voltswagen. Similar to Volkswagen, but with a renewed focus on electric driving. Starting with our all-new, all-electric SUV the ID.4 – available today. #Voltswagen #ID4 pic.twitter.com/pKQKlZDCQ7
— Voltswagen (@VW) March 30, 2021
The misleading news release wasn’t a good look for VW, particularly after the 2015 scandal in which it cheated on government emissions tests and allowed diesel-powered vehicles to illegally pollute the air.
A Volkswagen spokesman in Germany called the rebranding a “nice idea” with a focus on marketing and least one analyst wrote a research note praising the name change.
The 2015 scandal aside, it could also very well land Volkswagen in hot water with US securities regulators because its stock price rose 4.7 per cent the same day the bogus statement was officially issued. Ordinary shares closed up 10.3 per cent.
Tim Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University, said April Fool’s jokes are common in marketing but that it was rare for a company to deliberately mislead reporters.
“The problem is that in the short run, you can fool people, and it seems cute and entertaining,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“But in the long run, you really do need positive and good relations with the media. For a company that already has credibility problems, this is really a strange move.”
Some VW officials have expressed frustration that its significant US EV efforts have not drawn as much attention as Tesla or General Motors.
The Volkswagen brand aims to invest 16 billion euros ($A25 billion) in electrification and digitalisation by 2025.
It is aiming to sell one million EVs worldwide by 2025.
Volkswagen Group of America CEO Scott Keogh has not commented.
– with AAP and Sydney Morning Herald