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Volkswagen's name change of U.S. 'Voltswagen' operations was marketing prank

German automaker Volkswagen will not be changing the name of its U.S. operations to “Voltswagen of America.”
An employee prepares a new Volkswagen ID.4 SUV electric automobile for delivery  in Wolfsburg, Germany, on March 26, 2021.
An employee prepares a new Volkswagen ID.4 SUV electric automobile for delivery in Wolfsburg, Germany, on March 26, 2021.Ronny Hartmann / AFP - Getty Images

German automaker Volkswagen will not be changing the name of its U.S. operations to Voltswagen of America after all.

The news, which appeared to leak out on its U.S. media site Monday and was formally announced in a press release Tuesday, was part of an elaborate marketing stunt to raise awareness about the company’s all-electric ID.4, according to a person familiar with the ruse. It had said it originally planned to announce the change on April 29.

The company is expected to issue a follow-up announcement explaining the marketing strategy by Wednesday morning, this person said, asking not to be named. The Wall Street Journal reported the prank earlier Tuesday.

An unfinished version of the initial press release went out briefly on VW’s U.S. media newsroom website Monday morning before it was taken down. Media outlets, including CNBC, reported it as news after it was confirmed by unnamed sources within the company, who apparently lied to several reporters.

The release said the name change is expected to take effect in May and called the change a “public declaration of the company’s future-forward investment in e-mobility.” It said Voltswagen will be placed as an exterior badge on all EV models with gas vehicles having the company’s iconic VW emblem only.

It's not the first time a company has appeared to temporarily change its name for PR purposes. In 2018, IHOP briefly changed its name to "IHOb" to stress that it also sold burgers in addition to pancakes.

Volkswagen is no stranger to creative advertising. Its 90's campaign made the invented German word, "Fahrvergnugen," meant to invoke "the joy of driving," a household name.

The auto industry, on the whole, is moving towards battery power, but no automaker is investing more in the transformation than VW which has committed to spend more than $80 billion to bring at least 50 all-electric models to market by mid-decade.

Its high-line Bentley brand will only sell battery-electric vehicles by 2030 and while the flagship VW brand hasn’t committed to going completely BEV, global CEO Herbert Diess has strongly hinted that is in the works.

The VW brand’s first long-range BEV, the ID.3 hatchback, launched in Europe last year and its first American model, the ID.4 SUV, began rolling into showrooms this month. An assortment of additional all-electric models, including the ID.Buzz, a modern take on the classic Volkswagen Microbus, will follow.

VW was a relative latecomer to electrification. It gained religion following the embarrassing diesel emissions scandal uncovered by the EPA in September 2015. Since then, the Volkswagen brand has abandoned selling diesels in the U.S. and is even cutting back on that technology in Europe where it previously accounted for nearly two-thirds of sales by brands like VW and the high-line Audi.

As part of its settlement with the U.S. government, Volkswagen agreed to set up Electrify America. The start-up has the dual task of promoting EVs and setting up a nationwide network of chargers to make them more viable.

Volkswagen has had a rocky history in the U.S. market. The company became the nation’s largest import brand during the heyday of the original Beetle. But sales collapsed as Japanese competitors like Toyota, Nissan and Honda gained traction in the 1980s. Sales are now on the rebound, buoyed by an expanding line-up of SUVs, including the Tiguan and Atlas. The carmaker is betting it can take the lead as the auto industry transitions from internal combustion engines to battery-cars.

In the process, global CEO Diess has said a key goal is to “overtake” the current EV market leader, Tesla. VW already has surpassed its California-based rival in key European markets, including Germany and Norway, BEVs now accounting for about two-thirds of new vehicle sales in the Scandinavian nation.

A study recently released by research firm UBS forecast Volkswagen could topple Tesla as early as 2022. That would include products from not only the VW brand but sibling divisions including Audi, Porsche and even exotic marques like Bentley and Lamborghini.VW is converting numerous plants in Europe, China and the Americas to produce its new battery-electric vehicles. The ID.4 currently is being imported from Europe but it is spending over $1 billion to add capacity for the electric SUV at its assembly plant in Chattanooga. A second, unidentified BEV also will be produced in Tennessee. The ID.Buzz van and other electric vehicles will be added to the huge VW assembly complex in Puebla, Mexico.