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HomeCar CultureRear view: 10 — Volkswagen’s April Fool’s fiasco

Rear view: 10 — Volkswagen’s April Fool’s fiasco

Spoofed name change to ‘Voltswagen’ backfires

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Through the years, the public relations departments of many automakers, and others, have created some delightful car-themed April Fool’s Day pranks. 

Faux news releases have announced such things as the return of the Aztek, Lexus requiring a DNA test to make sure customers were worthy of its vehicles, Porsche’s return to farm tractor production (another year Porsche said it would offer wood trim — genuine Black Forest wood — on some vehicles). 

Airstream once showed a trailer wrapped in what appeared to be bear skin, and McLaren showed a 570GT wrapped in turkey features, saying it improved aerodynamics. 

We’ve offered a few ourselves. One year we announced that Jay Leno and other celebrity collector car owners were opening a Lyft-style service using their own cars in Los Angeles and New York. Another year we revealed the state of California was forcing the cancelation of Monterey Car Week because some of the cars emitted smoke out of their tail pipes.

Many were funny, some were flops. But none of them compared to the self-inflicted wound Volkswagen of America’s public relations staff inflicted on itself and the company in 2021 with its announcement that the automaker was changing its name to Voltswagen in preparation for going all-electric with its vehicle fleet.

Because the announcement was made a few days ahead of April 1, it was taken widely to be a real announcement, not an April Fool’s Day joke. 

rear view, Rear view: 10 — Volkswagen’s April Fool’s fiasco, ClassicCars.com Journal

The “announcement” even quoted VW of America president and chief executive Scott Keogh to confirm changing the K to a T in the corporate name.

The Associated Press reported that the day after the announcement, VW officials confirmed to news outlets that the name change was legitimate. They later changed their tune and said it was meant as an early April Fool’s Day joke.

However, not everyone was laughing. Those who believed the tale invested enough to boost the price of Volkswagen stock by nearly 10 percent. That bump in the stock price as a result of a corporate prank drew the interest of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which not that long ago had charged VW and its chief executive of defrauding investors in the aftermath of the “clean diesel” fraud.

By the end of April, news organizations were reporting a new SEC investigation triggered by the Voltswagen prank, and a few days ago, Germany’s Der Spiegel reported that the investigation was ongoing.

Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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