By James Raia
Volkswagen has manufactured three of the most popular vehicles in history: the Beetle, Golf and Passat. Last year, the Volkswagen Atlas, a versatile SUV, was named Family Car of the Year. It’s a popular choice among RVers.
But the German automaker has now also made two recent poor choices. One was criminal and settled last year. The second was this week and it was stupid – a failed April Fool’s joke.
The latest example occurred when Volkswagen turned a non-announcement into an announcement and then into a failed prank when it was caught.
The mess began when Volkswagen briefly posted on the manufacturer’s website that its expanding electrical vehicle lineup would be called “Voltswagen” – a departure from Volkswagen 66 years after the VW Beetle was first available in the United States.
Early April Fool’s joke
First reported by USA Today, the unusual move was immediately perceived as an early April Fool’s joke. But Volkswagen confirmed the press release’s legitimacy but removed the announcement from its website. Additional publications also posted the news.
A day after a pending name change was unveiled, the carmaker said it will not be changing the name of its U.S. operations to “Voltswagen of America.” But it was only after The Wall Street Journal reported the announcement was an elaborate joke. Volkswagen confirmed the newspaper’s reporting.
The original VW release said the name change was expected to begin in May. It called the change a “public declaration of the company’s future-forward investment in e-mobility.”
It said Voltswagen will be placed as an exterior badge on all EV models. Gas vehicles would still bear the company’s VW emblem only.
Volkswagen fooled itself – reputation shattered
Volkswagen pranked the experts, yes. But the manufacturer now looks bad.
Electric vehicle sales still account for only about 1 percent of all car sales in the United States. The tallies aren’t impressive. But BMW to Jaguar and Volkswagen to newbie Rivian, the industry is obsessed with the EV industry.
Pending regulations for mandatory increased gas mileage averages and improved emissions practices are all good.
All major manufacturers are in the game to be at the forefront with new gas-electric hybrids and all-electric options.
Tesla changed the industry. Elon Musk is not only at the forefront of technology, but he’s also at the forefront of controversy over overall quality control issues and the most recent accusation of new Tesla buyers being double-charged.
A little more than a decade ago, when General Motors introduced the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid in 2010, it was heralded as a “car of the future.” It lasted less than a decade with a series of factors prompting the discontinuation of the Volt for the all-electric Bolt. Confusion still abounds.
Volkswagen’s fake news
Volkswagen’s fake news read in part “more than a name change, ‘Voltswagen’ is a public declaration of the company’s future-forward investment in e-mobility.”
“The new name and branding symbolize the highly-charged forward momentum Voltswagen has put in motion, pursuing a goal of moving all people point-to-point with EVs.”
Volkswagen, which translates to the “people’s car,” is the world’s second-largest automaker. It began in 1937 when the German government, then under the control of Adolf Hitler of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, formed a new state-owned automobile company.
It was known as Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH. Later that year, it was renamed simply Volkswagenwerk, or “The People’s Car Company.” Volkswagen began selling cars in the United States in 1955.
According to the announcement, electric models would get an exterior badge with the name “Voltswagen.” Gas-powered vehicles would have the standard “VW” badge.
“We might be changing out our K for a T, but what we aren’t changing is this brand’s commitment to making best-in-class vehicles for drivers and people everywhere,” VW of America CEO Scott Keogh said in the fake news release.
Volkswagen showed off its concept I.D. Buzz, a cross between the vintage VW Microbus and a 21st century EV vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2017. The public version, the all-electric ID.4 SUV, debuted at dealers in March.
Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal
But then, there’s VW’s diesel emissions scandal. The automaker received penalties of more than $30 billion and faced criminal charges after admitting it lied about its diesel engine emission, called “Dieselgate.” Volkswagen implemented devices that would help falsify emissions. VW denied wrongdoing but eventually admitted guilt. Its CEO resigned.
And now Volkswagen’s prank. What was it thinking? It used the car industry and the media to promote the pending VW ID.4, the company’s first long-range electric SUV sold in the United States.
Didn’t VW learn its lesson from its recent diesel emissions scandal, which caused public trust to disappear? What will the fallout be this time around? For VW, it likely won’t be pretty. A backfired prank – a hefty volt for the German carmaker, for sure.
And isn’t it time for everyone else in the EV craze to slow down?
James Raia, a syndicated columnist in Sacramento, California, publishes a free weekly automotive podcast and electronic newsletter. Sign-ups are available on his website, www.theweeklydriver.com. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.