Volkswagen of America's astonishing, unnecessary and unfunny deception — insisting last week it would adopt the name "Voltswagen" — perpetuated against Automotive News and other prominent news organizations was intended to be an early April Fools' Day joke, and part of a campaign to generate buzz for its new electric crossover.
We're no stranger to April Fools' pranks by companies, but it wasn't April Fools' Day. We were assured by a long-trusted VW source that this wasn't a joke. On Tuesday, March 30, VW issued a press release on its official communications channels and amplified the message across social media. Nothing about it was humorous or over the top in the ways that signify a joke. The name "Voltswagen" was odd, but this wasn't its first usage. And let's face it, Voltswagen made more sense in the U.S. than Touareg ever did.
VW acknowledged the gag, unapologetically, on March 31. On Twitter, the brand congratulated itself for getting "the whole world buzzing." And a translated company statement from Germany seems intended to mock journalists and others who failed to assume the company with a history of lying was being dishonest: "We regret if we have overshot the campaign target in the perception of some individuals."
Some argue that any publicity is good publicity, and that the hurt feelings of a few journalists and investors is a small price to pay for getting the name of a brand with a 2 percent market share into the mainstream consumer and investor media.
Time will tell whether the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission considers the gag harmless after the fake release made shares jump. But it's no small matter to journalists at a time when a sizable portion of the population dangerously dismisses any news item that doesn't advance its own belief system.
VW deceived journalists and news organizations to promote its own marketing. The company did so without remorse until it suited its purposes to display a little.
VW has spent years repairing a reputation damaged by repeatedly lying to regulators about its diesel emissions — a scandal that resulted in criminal convictions and $30 billion-plus in penalties and other costs.
The company swore in the wake of that crisis that it would never lie again. What a joke.