Volkswagen has an electric shocker with name change prank that backfires

By on Thursday, April 1, 2021

Love it or loathe it, April 1 is the time of year when brands want to saturate timelines with pranks. Absurd new product launches and innovations, openings in extreme locations, unbelievable partnerships etc. It has become so cluttered and congested on the day that, in recent years, some brands have jumped the gun to get noticed in advance.

On March 29 Volkswagen ‘accidentally published’ a news release on its website announcing that it was rebranding to Voltswagen in the US as ‘a public declaration of the company’s future-forward investment in e-mobility.’ VW CEO of America Scott Keogh was even quoted saying “We might be changing our K for a T, but what we aren’t changing is the brand commitment to making it best-in-class vehicles”.

Journalists thought ‘Ah, yes, very funny’ and suspected it was an early April fool prank, but were assured by the company that it was not. Changing a name of an iconic global brand is a very big statement and the story was subsequently covered as fact by media in the US and around the world.

The only problem was that there wasn’t going to be a name change. On March 30 VW admitted that “Volkswagen of America” was a gag after all.

Not everyone was laughing. As one US publication, Autoblog, reported in its headline ’They lied’. Unfortunately for VW, it opened a can of worms because motoring journalists and activist consumers quick to point out this was not the first time VW had knowingly misled them.

In 2015 VW had to admit to installing hidden devices in its diesel cars in order to pass stringent emissions testing. The software was installed on more than 500,000 are in the US and over 10m more worldwide. Once on the road, engines pitched out of test mode and the engines emitted pollutants up to 40 times above the US legal limit.

Having contested and denied the allegations for a number of years – and even blaming the EPA, the US government body responsible for testing – VW finally came clean in one of the most damaging and costly cases of corporate fraud in automotive history.

What started out as a quick-hit pun idea – and Voltswagen is kind of cute – turned into a car crash with massive ramifications for the business.

The media has had a field day on delving up VW’s recent past and according to CNN, ‘the situation may have put the company at risk of running foul of US securities law by wading into the murky waters of potentially misleading investors’.

Meanwhile, when markets opened on April 1, VW’s share price dropped 1.6 per cent. If only they’d been like everyone else and announced they were opening a VW dealership for dogs on Mars it could’ve all been avoided.

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