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April comes early: Volkswagen name change just a joke

March 30, 2021

The German automaker Volkswagen had said it was renaming its US operations to "Voltswagen of America" as it shifts focus to electric vehicles. But it was just a prank.

A man powers up an electric Volkswagen GTI
Volkswagen is changing its name to "Voltswagen" in the United States as it embraces the shift to electric vehicles. Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Woitas

Following a couple of days of confusion over plans to change the name of the company's US operations to "Voltswagen of America," a Volkswagen spokesperson has confirmed that the name change was just a joke.

Mark Gillies said on Tuesday that a news release issued by the company, and picked up by many news outlets, was in fact not true. He had previously insisted the opposite.

The false statement said the brand-name change aimed to reflect VW's shift to electric vehicles. The world's second-largest carmaker expects to double electric vehicle deliveries and boost profits for its core brand this year after accelerating its switch to fully electric vehicles.

Embracing electric vehicles also allows it to compete with market leader, Tesla.

A tweet from the company's official account announcing the new name remained up, and still with the "Voltswagen" handle, even after the confirmation of the joke.

The unusual move came as the company tries to repair its reputation following the 2015 "Dieselgate" scandal.

April Fool's joke off the mark

The company's US unit, which is introducing a new all-electric sport utility vehicle this month, appeared to accidentally post a press release about the supposed name change on Monday. The press release was swiftly deleted, but not before being spotted. 

That announcement, with the wrong date on it, subsequently prompted speculation that the phantom announcement was in fact a marketing ploy ahead of April Fool's Day on April 1.

A Volkswagen US spokesman appeared to confirm the new branding late on Tuesday. He said that the announcement was originally intended for April 29 ahead of a formal re-naming on May 1, but had been published a month early in error and then deleted.

"This name change signals that VW is transitioning away from the internal combustion engine and to e-mobility," spokesman William Gock said.

"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,” said Scott Keogh, president and CEO Volkswagen in the US.

Nevertheless, and despite the press release being relaunched later on Tuesday with a correct date, VW's German headquarters in Wolfsburg had voiced skepticism and described the plan as a marketing ploy. Spoof April Fool's press releases are something of a tradition for German businesses.

Electric vehicle charging up.
Driven by the success of Tesla and the need to reduce pollution, electric vehicles are sweeping the auto industry.Image: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images/AFP

VW seeking to go electric

"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," said Gock.

The automaker has committed to sell 1 million EVs worldwide by 2025 and aims to invest 16 billion euros ($19 billion) in electrification and digitalization during this time.

German automakers playing catch-up

The company's plan to transition away from traditional internal combustion engines is similar to that of almost the entire industry.

Fellow German-car maker and VW's financial partner, Porsche, earlier this month similarly announced a move to power some new vehicles with zero-emissions fuel. 

The shift towards electric vehicles is also meant to help rebuild VW's reputation after the bruising "Dieselgate" scandal.

In this case, the company, along with other automakers, was caught using specialist software to deliver inaccurate and favorable emissions test results, resulting in billions in government fines, especially in the US.

mb/msh (AFP, Reuters)