By on March 30, 2021

It’s no secret that we here at TTAC don’t agree on everything when it comes to cars, culture, or politics (Or sports. Using memes to troll staffers who cheer for rival teams is a favorite pastime in our Slack channel).

We don’t speak as one editorial voice, nor do we practice neutral news reporting — we allow for editorializing, analysis, and commentary/opinion, as long as we’re fair, factually accurate, honest, and upfront about any potential biases. It’s one thing I love about working here — I can, if appropriate, put a little commentary into a news post. Overall, I try to allow everyone to be free to express themselves.

Yet, for all our various viewpoints, sometimes we agree on something. And I was right there with Matt yesterday when he fumed about Volkswagen becoming Voltswagen. The change is official, by the way — VW confirmed it.

I agree with Matt that the move is cringe-worthy marketing. I agree that it’s dumb. And I really, really, agree with this passage: “We’re now reaching the point where the segment is becoming a parody of itself. And it’s gradually turning mainstream buyers away while only serving to create more obstacles for an industry that claims to want to normalize EVs. Automakers need to stop worrying about how they’ll be branding their push into electrification and profiting off customer data and start worrying about whether or not consumers are going to be interested.”

In other words, instead of focusing on terrible marketing efforts, focus on coming out with a strong EV product, especially if you’re interested in becoming an OEM that’s considered a leader in the EV space.

Like Matt, I think these awful marketing efforts are actually counterproductive. If EVs are to grab the lion’s share of the marketplace, consumers need to see them as normal, and not exotic.

Obviously, some of that will be addressed by technology. Once ranges increase and charging times drop, and chargers become more accessible, the biggest technological hurdles to EV adoption will be cleared, and slowly, consumer adoption will increase.

But for now, with EV market share under 5 percent and many consumers still hesitant to go electric, some attempts to make EVs (and other electrified vehicles) seem special seem to be backfiring.

It’s not just VW. Remember the Volt dance? How about Ford being so afraid the Mach-E won’t sell that it borrows the Mustang name for cred, despite the fact the two cars don’t even share a platform? Or all the EV marketing that only seems to focus on green cred, while ignoring that EVs can be fun to drive and/or attractive and/or still offer utility?

I get why OEMs want to position themselves as leaders when it comes to EVs. The shift towards electrification is slowly picking up, the political winds have shifted, and there are very real concerns about climate change. OEMs want to be seen as being ahead of the curve.

But there’s a fine line between showing the masses that you’re all in on a massive technology change, one that is perceived as good for, and may actually be good for, the planet, and showing your asses when it comes to tooting your own EV bonafides.

So I ask of you, not one, but two Questions of the Day. Question one — are these marketing blunders counterproductive when it comes to getting the masses to adopt EVs? Question two — how can a manufacturer show that’s a leader when it comes to EV adoption without stepping in this sort of quicksand?

Have at it, folks.

[Image: Volkswagen Voltswagen]

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46 Comments on “QOTD: Is VW Actually Harming EV Adoption With Its Renaming?...”


  • avatar
    Syke

    Typical American (stupid) marketing.

    I’m currently driving a very enjoyable, comfortable, reliable EV (Chevrolet Bolt) that I enjoy very much . . . . . and watching the industry’s efforts get lost in politics (what you drive is supposedly an indication of your side of the political spectrum), lack of knowledge on the part of potential customers, too much time spent on promises while not delivering the promised product, resistance bordering on sandbagging on the part of the manufacturer’s retail outlets . . . . and now, market campaigns that are childish at best.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Really? When did Volkswagen become an American company?

      • 0 avatar
        cardave5150

        It’s only the American arm of VW that is doing this, so, for this exercise, it IS an American company.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I didn’t think this could get any stupider, yet there it is.

          • 0 avatar
            RHD

            VW announced it yesterday via Twitter, and now has retracted their silliness. Maybe they just had second thoughts.

            Business
            Volkswagen says it’s not becoming Voltswagen after all
            The German automaker says the announcement by its U.S. subsidiary was a stunt.

            By Taylor Telford
            March 30, 2021 at 3:29 p.m. PDT
            Volkswagen is not renaming its U.S. subsidiary Voltswagen despite saying it would.

            The company confirmed Tuesday that the rebranding announcement from earlier in the day was, in fact, a stunt to gin up interest in its electric vehicle strategy and the imminent arrival of its first long-range, electric SUV.

            “There will be no renaming of Volkswagen of America,” Volkswagen spokesman Mark Gillies said in an emailed statement Tuesday night. “The alleged renaming was designed to be an announcement in the spirit of April Fool’s Day, highlighting the launch of the all-electric ID.4 SUV and signaling our commitment to bringing electric mobility to all. We will provide an update and official statement on this matter soon.”

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            “Maybe they just had second thoughts.”

            Probably their General Counsels’ office and fears of getting hammered by securities regulators.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Voltswagen? Are you sh!tting me?

    Here is what happened: the late (and mildly villainous) Mr. Piëch kicked and the twelve year olds took over.

    The first generation makes it;
    The second generation spends it;
    The third generation blows it.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Question 1: Yes
    Question 2: IDK, seems like Ford did a pretty good job marketing the Mach-E, how’s it selling? I think creating a distinct EV-only model is key, rather than making an electric version of an existing model.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I still have trouble believing this is true. CNN suggested the name change might not be permanent.

    Agree with Tim’s comments.

    As for how can a mfr show that it’s an EV leader:
    – don’t do half-measures, such as ‘electrifying’ an ICE chassis.
    – incentivize the sales force to actually sell EVs
    – reduce first-time buying anxiety by making the purchase and ownership easier; i.e. free charger installation
    – be honest about range fluctuations due to aging, towing, speed, and weather
    – secure a reliable and safe battery supply
    – sell EVs everywhere you sell ICEs
    – train your workforce for the future, rather than having an “EV guy” who can sell them, or an “EV mechanic” who can fix them
    – avoid any decisions that turn an EV or its ownership into a niche experience, i.e. weird user interfaces (displays, steering wheels, door handles, key fobs, driving aids… Tesla), or weird styling (Leaf 1.0)
    – don’t style your vehicle to look like a science project
    – offer 10-year warranties on the vehicle and its battery performance
    – advertise the real-life benefits of EV driving, not saving polar bears

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Another one:

      -don’t pack ‘mobility’ stuff in with every EV.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Good points. I might add, put out very cheap leases and then make up the losses with all of the data you’re going to pilfer anyway.

      If you’re not paying for it, you become the product.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Agreed, we need to be able to opt out of the data-sharing nonsense.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Physically removing the antenna should work for the time being, until they brick them when you do that. Speaking of which, did you know Volvo was still locking its proprietary CD/tape/radio stack when power is lost as late as MY2004? Yes in the 90s (and possibly 80s) people stole the CD players out of higher end cars thus brick them but nobody in 2004 or 2000 anything for that matter was gonna steal these. Idiots. Everything FWD seems to be a Swedish Jaguar.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      Well thought-out and complete. Hopefully someone is paying attention.

  • avatar
    36hp

    This reminds me of when GM was going to go all Wankel. The motor displacement would be determined by the number of rotors stacked together. It was a done deal. GM was all in…..

    I thought VW lost it with the emissions scandal. To my mind VW represented German “good design” with a playful hippy vibe. What were they thinking? The emissions scandal was the end of VW for me — the news since then confirms my thinking.

  • avatar

    Hmmm, pity. No longer the people’s car company. I thought that its many divisions (e.g. Audi, Seat) brilliantly took care of branding for many niche markets. Is it now an electric car company with many non-electric divisions relying on internal combustion technology? Dealerships and customers everywhere may be left confused. I knw that I am.

  • avatar
    Mackie

    What a ridiculous idea. I think my Golf will be my last VW.

  • avatar
    John R

    LMAO!

    VAG needs to get their charging network up to speed first before making a move like this. They are – veritably – a lightyear behind Tesla on this.

  • avatar
    ajla

    If it is an April Fool’s joke then it makes their BEVs seem silly and unserious.

    If it is a temporary rebranding (like “IHOB”) then it makes their BEVs seem like a fad.

    If it is a permanent rebranding then it is confusing for normies and wrecks brand equity. Along with the issue of them having a whopping one BEV available for purchase right now.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Q1 = Yes. Typical stupid marketing, trying to make your product seem “cool” means it immediately isn’t. People can see thru this and find it laughable.

    Q2 = To increase EV adoption the OEMs need to explain most people don’t need that much range and also help with the home charging situation. I think most people’s daily vehicle usage (commuting, shopping, airport run, soccer practice) would be fine with an EV, but they live in fear of running out of battery juice. Because at some point in driving everyone has suffered a dead battery but knew a quick jump start could get them back on the road. The idea that an EV would just be totally dead is too much dread and risk. In general people are creatures of habit and don’t accept change very well.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    #1 It is way too soon to know if this is a blunder or not. However the more old guys get their panties in a bunch because of it the smarter and smarter it looks. The people who will get worked up about this aren’t the people that they are trying to attract and VW made its US reputation and was in its hey day when they were considered the anti-establishment car. Ford’s choosing to call the Mach-E a Mustang has shown the value of free press. It also stood to put potential buyers on notice that it isn’t just a boring EV.

    #2 Ford has shown that using the Mustang name was a good way to get people interested in the car and is allowing them to share that they are a leader with the best tech in the business. Having an actual range meter, instead of the BS that Tesla and other EV’s guess o meter tells you likely wouldn’t be getting as good of press as it is w/o the hoopla. It certainly didn’t any press with the older version they used in the Energi cars.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “anti-establishment”

      How is building BEV crossovers “anti-establishment”? The switch to electric has *massive* backing from corporations and governments across the world while crossovers sell like ice cream in August. Most people are not going to buy a vehicle just to stick it to an anonymous commenter on a car website that they’ve never even visited.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Marketing doesn’t have to make perfectly logical sense – it just has to appeal to a slice of customers. And VW does have something of an “anti-establishment” rep, even if it IS part of the establishment.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Yup it is about customer perception. They made serious hay with the TDI and the public perception that it was clean.

        • 0 avatar
          Matt Posky

          Yep. Good old anti-establishment Volkswagen. That’s always how I think about the brand. It’s also a massive underdog, just like Toyota, General Motors, and other multinational corporations.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        A massive veiled threat is more accurate.

        I also agree the BEV at this point is as establishment as one can get. Hellcat is anti-establishment.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        In this case the establishment is the traditional automakers, many who are seen as resistant to EVs. Tesla made a name for itself, and got a lot of free press, by not being a part of the ICE establishment.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          That makes more sense.

          Everyone but Tesla is essentially resistant to EVs because only Tesla makes any money on them and has the product those niche buyers want to buy. Automakers not named Tesla are being coerced by the societal/political establishment to dive head first into a half filled pool whereas if the lunatics would let the market play out a few years the mfgs may become much more willing.

          GM is doing exactly as it did in 1980 by quickly bowing to political pressure, and while the company did survive with this strategy there were casualties (Luxury market share completely ceded to Zee Germans and later Japanese and some near luxury to the Japanese). Given GM’s position as a de facto majority Chinese company, they want to own as much as the PRC DM as they can so it makes sense. VW while not a major US player, is a major player in nearly every other market and they have the most to lose if the EV fad ever grew real legs globally. The other mfgs do not benefit from these diktats and are hesitant as they know anything they do becomes a cost center from which they will never profit.

          “Tesla made a name for itself, and got a lot of free press”

          Tesla is the darling of the societal establishment and benefitted from its promoting by the establishment’s “free press”. By keeping the name on so many lips, both lovers and haters, they have given the company more marketing/PR power than it could have bought in probably 100 years. Tesla could not have gone so far in the same amount of time without it, despite the technical merits of the product.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            “Tesla is the darling of the societal establishment and benefitted from its promoting by the establishment’s “free press”. By keeping the name on so many lips, both lovers and haters, they have given the company more marketing/PR power than it could have bought in probably 100 years. Tesla could not have gone so far in the same amount of time without it, despite the technical merits of the product.”

            Agree

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “the traditional automakers, many who are seen as resistant to EVs.”

          Which ones are seen as resistant to EVs? Dodge and McLaren?

          The opportunity to be Tesla circa 2015 is long gone. Right now every manufacturer offers something with a plug and all of them have announced expanded BEV offerings coming soon. The ability for a BEV to be unique simply through existing has the life on milk in the sun.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            As 28 Cars said pretty much every traditional automaker is seen as resistant by the EV crowd. Many of the cars they have produced so far are compliance cars often only available in states of Californication. Even if they are supposedly available nation wide many are not requiring them to be a stocking item nor are they requiring them to make the investment required to support them.

            So while they can’t go back and be the Tesla of 2015, but I think they hope this will resonate with the EV crowd and certainly get them a ton of free PR.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “I think they hope this will resonate with the EV crowd”

            Is the “EV crowd” responding to this positively? How will this go if it is an actual joke like “mcs” commented below?

            I know you are an “all PR is good PR” advocate but I still don’t know if that’ll be the case with these EV stunts.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Well, I suppose the good news is that I’ve been pondering a GTI or Jetta GLI, and since VW seems bent on destroying its’ own brand, maybe they’ll get a bit cheaper. Works for me – those are both boffo cars to drive.

    The bad news is that this rename is a laughably stupid idea.

    Side note: I was at a VW dealership last weekend, and they are highlighting the new ID4 with a special showroom presentation, so they’re serious about this, even if the rename is dumb.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      One thing I forgot to mention is how silly the name will seem as VW continues to sell some ICE vehicles. I don’t think the Golf or Atlas or Jetta are going anywhere or being electrified across the board (hybrids may be an option) anytime soon. And what if the company brings those compact trucks here….

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Its a fail, period. Unless the free publicity they are getting is of value. As pointed out above Ford did just that with the Mach-E “Mustang”. Frankly, I think that overemphasizing the “EVness” of the company is not really a good thing. Early hybrids had that dopey look that said “Look at me! I’m into saving gas” and were a turn-off to a lot of people. One of the things I liked about my hybrid Altima was that it blended in – it was indistinguishable from other Altimas unless you knew that the roof mounted antenna was a tip off for the hybrid car. EVs should be marketed on their merits which have steadily been improving. I hear on forums a lot of talk about “would you buy an electric Corvette”? To me, if the vehicle in question delivers what you expect from it, that is the most important attribute. Sure, some want an electric car for the simple reason its electric, but a manufacturer has to sell in real volumes. Tesla pulled it off – kinda – but VW needs to move way more volume than that.

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    A little early for April Fools Day, isn’t it?

  • avatar
    mcs

    “The change is official, by the way — VW confirmed it.”

    It’s an April fool’s joke. It’s not real regardless of whatever spokesman “confirmed” it. I have first-hand info that it’s not true. I stand by my information.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Good grief. This stunt (and it is a stunt, a straightforward copy of the “IHOB” thing) is not worth any elevated blood pressure. But the entire staff is swallowing it wholesale. VW PR 1, TTAC 0.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I’d say it is

      VW PR 2, since it has so far generated two articles.

      TTAC 0 by taking the bait

      The count is certainly going to continue to rank up in VW’s favor as witnessed by the number of times we have heard the Mach E is not a Mustang, including this article.

  • avatar
    RRocket

    This is a well constructed April Fool’s joke IMO….

    Quite surprised that TTAC thinks otherwise.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    VW should change their name to Voltswatten it might electrify their sales.

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