Volkswagen pulls a fast one: ‘Voltswagen’ rebrand a ruse

WOLFSBURG: New Volkswagen (VW) ID.4 SUV electric cars are ready for delivery at the customer center of German carmaker Volkswagen in Wolfsburg. German auto giant Volkswagen said on Tuesday it is renaming its US subsidiary as “Voltswagen,” calling the moniker a public declaration of its “future-forward investment in e-mobility. – AFP

NEW YORK: Volkswagen US’ subsidiary is keeping its name and will not rename itself “Voltswagen,” a company spokesman said, confirming that an earlier announcement was an April Fool’s joke that may have gone further than intended. The German automaker’s US subsidiary, which is launching a media blitz for a new all-electric sport utility vehicle, recrafted its social media pages Tuesday and said the new moniker represents its “future-forward investment in e-mobility,” according to a press release early Tuesday that was widely covered, including by AFP.

Company officials kept up the pretense for hours, with a US spokesman confirming the name change early Tuesday in response to an email question about whether it was an April Fool’s joke. But VW spokesman Mark Gillies said in an email late Tuesday that the “Voltswagen” rebrand was a joke after the Wall Street Journal and other media reported that the announcement was indeed a ruse.

The incident comes as VW unveils new ads in the United States for the ID.4, its new electric model. VW’s shift to electric cars marks an opportunity to redefine itself after the bruising “Dieselgate” scandal, which led to billions of dollars’ worth of government settlements and a shakeup of company leadership. Daniel Binns, head of Interbrand, a New York-based marketing consultancy, said the VW’s announcement succeeded in generating buzz, but that the approach was not risk-free.

“It’s got us talking about it, so it’s working,” Binns said late Tuesday afternoon while the branding campaign was under suspicion but not yet debunked. But Binns said the joke was not necessarily intuitive, since the release came a few days before April 1. There is also a risk the communication around the joke will look “mismanaged” given that many people took it seriously. “At this point it’s how it gets resolved and what is the punchline,” Binns said.

The episode began Monday, when VW briefly published the “Voltswagen” press release, sparking speculation it was an April Fools’ joke. Such stunts are particularly popular in the German press. VW quickly removed the release but made a formal announcement on Tuesday morning. The name was also changed on VW’s Twitter and YouTube pages. A VW spokesman in the United States said Tuesday the announcement was originally intended for April 29, but that the transition was accelerated after the inadvertent Monday release.

“After yesterday, we have decided to expedite this roll-out and will be going through a series of transitions in both internal and external brand guidelines that will make this change as seamless and straightforward as possible,” said spokesman William Gock, whose email signature identifies him as Product Communications Senior Specialist for Volkswagen of America.

“This name change signals that VW is transitioning away from the internal combustion engine and to e-mobility,” Gock said in response to emailed questions, including about April Fool’s Day. “We foresee our cars being all electric in the US by the end of the next decade, and we hope the attention we’re generating here will help communicate these goals and commitments to all.”

Tesla-level buzz?
The announcement comes as VW unveils in US showrooms this month the new all-electric ID.4 sport utility vehicle, the latest challenge by a conventional automaker to Elon Musk’s Tesla franchise. Besides releasing products to compete with Tesla, traditional automakers are also trying to compete with Musk’s flare for generating buzz.

VW’s plan for shifting away from conventional cars is similar to that of General Motors, which introduced a new brand design earlier this year as part of an avowed redefinition of the company to what GM calls a future of “zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.” A series of lighthearted spots released Monday played up the change to an auto that starts up without a traditional vroom, responds to voice commands to adjust the heat and charges up while an owner goes to bed.

Wedbush Securities praised VW’s announcement as evidence it is “not playing around” in building up its electric car fleet and remaking its corporate image, according to a note released Tuesday shortly after the purported name change. -AFP

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