WASHINGTON – Volkswagen AG’s U.S. unit issued a false news release claiming it would rename its U.S. operations as “Voltswagen of America” in a marketing stunt designed to call attention to its electric vehicle efforts, the carmaker said.
Volkswagen came under criticism on social media for its news release, with some commentators recalling the company’s diesel emissions scandal and years of misleading customers and regulators.
The initial statement outlining the name change, posted on its website and accompanied by tweets, was reported by Reuters and other outlets globally and included a detailed description of its purported rebranding efforts and new logos.
The company pulled it late on Tuesday.
“Volkswagen of America will not be changing its name to Voltswagen. The renaming was designed to be an announcement in the spirit of April Fool’s Day, highlighting the launch of the all-electric ID.4 SUV and signaling our commitment to bringing electric mobility to all,” a VW U.S. spokesman said in a statement.
“We will provide additional updates on this matter soon,” he added.
Volkswagen is expected to issue a fresh statement on the matter on Wednesday, a person familiar with the matter said.
A Volkswagen spokesman in Germany called the rebranding a “nice idea” with a focus on marketing. Volkswagen Group of America CEO Scott Keogh did not respond to messages.
The incident marks the latest communication hiccup at the group, which made headlines last year when it withdrew and apologised for an advert posted on its official Instagram page for its Golf cars that it admitted was racist and insulting.
“Apparently no one in the approval process at @VW said, hey maybe we shouldn’t lie to the press given the whole, you know, emissions lying thing,” Dawn Kopecki, senior editor for CNBC.com, said on Twitter.
At least one analyst wrote a research note praising the name change. VW’s preferred shares were flat on Wednesday after closing 4.7% higher on Tuesday, while common shares were down 1%, having closed 10.3% higher the previous day.
German financial watchdog BaFin had no immediate comment. The regulator said this month it was watching Volkswagen shares in a routine way following a recent rally.
Volkswagen, the world’s second-largest carmaker, expects to double electric vehicle deliveries and boost profits for its core brand this year after stepping up its switch to fully electric vehicles in a bid to catch up with Tesla.
Some VW officials have expressed frustration that its significant U.S. EV efforts have not drawn as much attention as Tesla or General Motors.
The Volkswagen brand aims to invest 16 billion euros ($19 billion) in electrification and digitalization by 2025. It has committed to sell one million EVs worldwide by 2025.
Volkswagen in 2015 admitted to using illegal software to rig diesel engine tests in the United States, sparking Germany’s biggest corporate crisis and costing the carmaker more than 32 billion euros in fines, refits and legal costs.
In 2017, VW pleaded guilty to fraud, obstruction of justice and making false statements as part of a $4.3 billion settlement reached with the U.S. Justice Department over the automaker’s diesel emissions scandal.
FILE PHOTO: A Volkswagen logo is shown with an American flag at a car dealership in Carlsbad, California, U.S., September 23, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo