There are jokes. And things that fall flat. And things that have consequences. And something in between. Which isn’t particularly good.
By Gary S. Vasilash
“You’ve got a spider on your head!”
“Taylor Swift is on the phone.”
“There’s a unicorn in the backyard—come see, quick!”
Today in the U.S. people of all ages are saying things like that. It is April Fool’s Day.
For the past several years automotive companies have been participating in pranks. They distribute news releases on April 1 describing things from flying cars to flux capacitors.
The more plausible, the more funny they tend to be.
Earlier this week, on Monday, there was a “leak” that Volkswagen of America was going to change its name to “Voltswagen of America.”
Reporters contacted sources that substantiated that yes, VoA was going to be doing that. The rationale was that it really wanted to emphasize that it is going to be an all-electric brand.
Right now VoA has one electric vehicle, the ID.4.
On Tuesday, the company sent out a news release with the headline:
Voltswagen: A new name for a new era of e-Mobility
The opening sentence: “Today, Volkswagen Group of America, is unveiling the official change of its U.S. brand name from Volkswagen of America to Voltswagen of America.”
There was a link to the company’s media webpage.
(Those of a grammatical bent might have thought there was something awry because of that second comma, which shouldn’t be there.)
The dateline on that release: “Herndon, VA, March 30, 2021.”
Herndon is where VoA is headquartered.
Now the company is claiming that this is all an April Fool’s joke.
–April Fool’s Day: April 1, 2021
–VW press release: March 30
–VW denial: March 31; the press release was scrubbed from the site
If it is a joke, then it wasn’t very well executed.
If you told your significant other, who was going to be leaving for an important meeting, that their car had a flat tire and then said “April Fool’s!” when it was March 30, you probably would be spending that night on the couch.
There are those who say that this isn’t a big deal, that it is simply something along the lines of P.T. Barnum’s “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”
But in this case, the name wasn’t being spelled correctly.
The people trying to minimize this say that “regular people,” not those who are obsessed with the auto industry, probably don’t pay much attention to this.
I would suggest that this story had national attention and while it didn’t shake anyone to their core, “regular people” heard “Volkswagen” and words associated with denial and retraction.
Maybe the last time they heard the word “Volkswagen” on their local news “diesel” was linked to it.
VW’s market share in the U.S. is small. The company, which is #1 or #2 in Europe, depending on the month, is way down the list in the U.S. market.
The people in Wolfsburg are probably quite frustrated at this.
VW is going electric in a big way. So far that big way is in Europe and China.
In the U.S., not yet.
But this whole thing has done nothing to improve its reputation in this market.
And that’s the problem. They need to get people into dealerships to buy vehicles to increase their market share. One of the ways they could do this is by selling more EVs.
I’ve driven the ID.4 and I think it is a very good car, something that could make “regular people” go to an EV.
But if those regular people are skeptical about VW and are interested in an EV (and let’s face it: there aren’t a whole lot of them right now), they could conceivably go to their local Ford or Chevy dealer for a Mach-E or Bolt EUV.
Right now I am test driving a 2021 VW Golf GTI 2.0T Autobahn and think that it is the best car that I’ve had the opportunity to be in during the first quarter of 2021: Inside, outside and under the hood, this is what seems to me to be a well-executed machine that is the definition of affordable German engineering. A superb car.
It would be a shame if people stay away from VW vehicles because they think there is something foolish about the company.
P.T. Barnum also allegedly said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
Yes there is.
By the way: There’s ink on your nose.*
*Ignore this after April 1.
One or more immature individuals in positions of responsibility at Volkswagen appear to have fallen for the dangerous allure of April Fool’s Day, and became so excited over their stunt they jumped the gun.
As a person with a mostly black-and-white mindset, who is slow to recognize bad satire, I would have taken this prank news as actual news.
The most valuable asset of any company—be it automotive, any other type of corporation, and most especially a news organization—is its reputation. It benefits no one when corporate communications departments surrender to the mindless April Fool’s Day appeal of posting a prank (literally fake news), especially in our current political and social era of sarcasm blindness.