When news of a leaked press release saying Volkswagen’s American division was rebranding itself as Voltswagen first emerged, I figured the release in question was probably scheduled for 1 April. Because, I mean, it couldn’t possibly be true, could it?
And, it seems, it wasn't. That's despite Volkswagen of America, in its 'new' guise as Voltswagen of America, confirming the adoption of its new moniker in an official statement on 30 March, not 1 April. And, by all accounts, the firm's US PR department assuring any media who queried the move that it was, in fact, real and not an April Fools come early. That led to numerous outfits, including the PA, Reuters, the BBC, USA Today and, yes, Autocar, reporting it as a real move.
Except it, seems, it wasn't. Reuters has now reported that the announcement was part of a marketing stunt, and the change won't actually go ahead, and the release has now been removed from Volkswagen/Voltswagen of America's website. It seems it was either a joke or a marketing stunt that has gone somewhat awry.
Now, it certainly succeeded in garnering publicity, with lots of news stories and lots of opinions given on the matter - including the original version of the piece you're reading now. But now that it has seemingly been unpicked, it doesn't appear to have served its desired purpose: instead of reflecting on VW's electrification programme, people are talking about the merits, or otherwise, of the publicity stunt. So let's unpick it a bit.
The basic explanation behind the 'announcement': with VW’s vast electrification programme about to ramp up with the arrival of the ID 4 in the US, the firm wants to become inextricably linked with electric vehicles. Claiming you're going to adopt a new name with an electrification message built into it is a way for 'Voltswagen of America' to show its commitment and build those links.
Now, as a writer and editor, I love a cheesy play-on-words pun as much as anybody. And Voltswagen is a pretty good cheesy play-on-words pun for an electric Volkswagen. I know this, because Volkswagen has used it as a pun before: if your local Tesco has any of those VW-funded charging points, you’ll have likely seen it on the display screens there. And the firm's done similar things before. In the past, it 'rebranded' its hometown of Wolfsburg as Golfsburg.
So as a slightly frivolous way of reinforcing its commitment to electric cars, Voltswagen works. Call it the Tesla effect. Unburdened by a history of producing gas-guzzling combustion engines, Tesla has become all but synonymous with electric vehicles in the US, and many believe the Californian firm’s EVs are inherently better and more sophisticated than any such car from one of the big legacy firms. That probably rankles VW a bit, and pushing 'Voltswagen' is a way of highlighting the sheer scale and scope of its EV production ambitions compared with Tesla in the coming years.
Had it been properly done as an April Fools' Day joke, or even adopted as a temporary month-long rebrand during the US ID 4 launch, it might have worked. But the firm's insistence this was a real, genuine move instead put the focus on the wisdom of throwing away the 84 years of heritage built up in the Volkswagen title in the US market.
Volkswagen is a name with meaning, too: the people’s car. It already has a message and a mission statement baked into it, and one that doesn’t change because of how a car is powered. But many people still inextricably link Volkswagen with the diesel emissions scandal. It’s harder to really convince the wider world about your green intentions with that issue lurking in the background, and with the firm insistent that the Voltswagen switch was real, it was hard not to contemplate that it was trying to escape that past.