Volkswagen of America’s purported name change to “Voltswagen” was an April Fool’s joke gone bad.
On Monday, the automaker briefly posted, then removed, a draft press release on its website related to branding, sparking media speculation that company was changing its name to promote electric vehicles.
VW published the announcement in full on Tuesday, pledging to rebrand as “Voltswagen” in the U.S., “a public declaration of the company’s future-forward investment in e-mobility.”
Later Tuesday, the company fessed up.
“The renaming was designed to be an announcement in the spirit of April Fool’s Day,” VW said in a statement after removing the release from its U.S. media site.
“We will provide additional updates on this matter soon.” Earlier, a VW spokesperson at the German manufacturer’s headquarters in Wolfsburg called it “an interesting idea” from the marketing department.
Volkswagen may have gone too far in its effort to gin up buzz for VW’s electrification push, and the electric ID.4 crossover, which is arriving in U.S. showrooms.
Chief Executive Officer Herbert Diess has taken on a more colorful role on Twitter and professed his admiration for Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk, all part of an effort to establish VW as an electric pioneer and distance the company from the Dieselgate scandal.
Those stakes are too high to joke about, said Tom Morton, chief strategy officer for the U.S. at advertising firm R/GA in New York.
“This is the most pressing challenge of the auto industry, ‘Can you go electric?’,” Morton said. “Choosing to joke about it undermines their commitment.”
The German automaker has become a stock market darling of late with its rapid-fire EV announcements. The common shares have soared 88% in 2021, giving it a market value of 144.1 billion euros ($168.7 billion).
Diess held a Tesla-esque “Power Day” presentation earlier this month in which he pledged to build six new battery factories in Europe.
VW plans to deliver 1 million plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles this year, and Diess aims to surpass Tesla in EV sales no later than 2025. Some analysts predict it will happen much sooner.
It’s not unheard of for companies to use humor to gain publicity for a radical change, Morton said. IHOP famously renamed itself IHOB — the International House of Burgers — to draw attention to its lunch menu.
“That’s mainly being done by fast-food brands, where the stakes are lower and they need a bit of hoopla,” Morton said.
“This is about a fundamental change of direction for a world-shaping industry and also one where there’s a lot of baggage.”
It wouldn’t be the first time VW committed a marketing gaffe.
The automaker caused an uproar last fall with a video clip that showed a black man being controlled by a giant white hand.
The clip produced by Omnicom Group Inc.’s Berlin-based subsidiary Voltage sparked widespread criticism and tensions within the company.
The German automaker’s powerful labor representatives called it a “low point” and demanded an overhaul of social-media marketing.