By on March 31, 2021

The reaction to Volkswagen’s epic fail of an April Fool’s Day prank seems to be running the gamut from “how dare they lie” to “Eh, it was dumb but who cares?”

So I figured that while journalists, academics, and others can make their opinion known on Twitter, I’d ask y’all what you think.

I am fully aware that no matter how we feel about what VW did, we’re going to generate attention to it by talking about it. So, in that sense, it may have been successful for VW. Any publicity is good publicity, you know.

Then again, this is a company with credibility issue from the emissions scandal, and we’re living in an age of misinformation/disinformation spread by liars who seek political and/or monetary gains, so maybe it’s not good to knowingly lie to reporters about an important topic, such as a name change, even if you think it’s all in good fun and/or a way to generate buzz.

I have my own thoughts, which I might unload on you guys today or tomorrow. But before this story mercifully works its way out of the news cycle, I want to hear your thoughts.

You know the drill.

[Image: Volkswagen]

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44 Comments on “QOTD: Just How Bad Was Volkwagen’s Prank?...”


  • avatar
    Safeblonde

    My friends on TheSamba.com (a vintage Volkswagen site) did not love it. Whole discussion at https://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?t=752087

  • avatar
    ajla

    The “you lied to the press” complaint is a little eye-roll inducing for me. The automakers lie to you folks all the time, they just don’t about-face so quickly and give you a handwave excuse to spare your feelings.

    That said, as a joke or marketing stunt I give it a 2/10. It wasn’t done on April Fool’s day and the subject of the “joke” was products from their $86 billion investment.
    Plus, they only offer one relatively average BEV model right now with an inventory of about 500 units and they are all fancy “1st Edition” trims with white steering wheels. At least with the “IHOB” thing I could get a variety of burgers at any location.

    In fact I’d say IHOP is the real winner here. I’ve seen more references to them over the last three days than I ever have.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    As has been pointed out repeatedly in this and other comment sections over the last couple of days, this was an easily refuted joke that too many in the press swallowed hook, line, and sinker.

    Things like not bothering to register the domain voltswagen.com should have been obvious within seconds to anyone bothering to seek the truth rather than regurgitate a press release.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I think this shows that the press is *way* too chummy with the manufacturers.
      If the fallout from this is more scrutiny and fewer Zoom happy hours with “inside sources” and less press release copy/paste then that will be a good thing.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @ajla –
        “I think this shows that the press is *way* too chummy with the manufacturers”

        It’s a symbiotic relationship. Auto manufacturers like the advertising gained from the presstitutes. The cough hack journalists will criticize soft touch plastics and odd air vents but paint a rosey picture overall. They don’t want to loose access to the press fleet.

        • 0 avatar
          Tim Healey

          Not entirely true. I know plenty of journalists, us included, who aren’t afraid to lose access.

          That said, there are some schills out there, and TTAC has never been afraid to call them out.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      It was a lack of true journalism. I contacted one of the writers I know that works for one of the major auto sites to verify my information on Monday. He went through the same process and came to the same conclusion.

      While this was a smaller fluff story, it extends to major stories. For example the Toyota BEV program. While they were trash-talking BEVs and pushing hydrogen, they were filing massive amounts of battery patents. Most automotive writers just believed the corporate line and totally missed evidence that showed that in fact Toyota actually had a massive BEV program underway. The USPTO and job posting sites are major tools for investment analysts and journalists that cover corporations. When rumors of Tesla building a factory in Austin surfaced, everyone was scanning small town and county websites for permits.

      Always verify your sources and research, research, research. Blogging is easy, journalism is hard. Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call for glorified mommy-bloggers to up their game.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        People are inherently lazy. It takes extra effort to research and validate. Sensationalist aka click bait journalism is the norm. Electronic media and the “like” phenomena has shortened our attention spans.

        When I was young I’d have to go to the library and look through volumes of information to formulate a conclusion…

        Now? ….

        We just enter a few words into a search engine and accept the first tidbit that validates our opinion.

        Oh…I “like” this information. I’m validated…

        No knowledge gained.

        No growth.

        No wisdom.

      • 0 avatar
        Tim Healey

        Again, I wish I would’ve seen your comment. That said, major outlets thought they had confirmation. Those are good reporters. It’s also difficult, though not necessarily impossible, to have verified this particular claim independently. Especially on deadline.

        I’d like to think of myself as fairly smart, thoughtful, and well-informed. And I might not have thought to check for, say, a domain registration. That’s not laziness, it’s just being unable to think creatively and/or not knowing those avenues exist.

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          Tim, my comment wasn’t necessarily directed at you personally or TTAC in particular. Re-reading it makes it sound harsher than was my intent. Plenty of reputable news organizations reported this as gospel truth with less skepticism than TTAC did.

          And normally I wouldn’t think too much of using a source inside a company as legitimate.

          But in this case, when the story is so objectively far-fetched and the date is so close to April 1, I might have leaned a bit more toward confirmation over speed in reporting. All that said, I do not and have not ever worked in media and admittedly don’t understand the pressures you face reporting stories. And the whole thing is pretty low stakes anyways.

          • 0 avatar
            Tim Healey

            I didn’t take it personally, nor as a reflection on TTAC. I’m just making an educated guess here that the other outlets were also skeptical, but felt like they actually had confirmation — obviously, they wouldn’t publish if they didn’t feel that way. I can’t know that for sure, but that’s the most likely scenario. I do know that a lot of journalists were expressing skepticism on their personal social-media feeds in ways they couldn’t in a story.

            I always hope for confirmation over speed, but it’s not always realistically possible. It sounds great when you’re lectured about it in J-school but the real world tends to waylay plans.

            As for it being low-stakes, I thought it was at first, too, but on the other hand, we did six posts on it, four if you don’t count the QOTDs. And a name change is a big deal if it’s real.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          “That said, major outlets thought they had confirmation.”

          Ah, so…everyone ELSE jumped off the cliff, therefore it’s perfectly reasonable that YOU jump off the cliff.

          “Everyone else thinks that, therefore it’s perfectly reasonable” (read: safe) “to think like that”.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @Tim Healey – I’m not singling you out. I did do a search and saw that multiple mainstream media outlets also covered it.

          My comment above was aimed at the general public and typical blog readers more than journalists. My apologies for sounding overly harsh.

          Journalists need to shine a light into the dark corners where no one else looks. Everyone looking at the same spot isn’t very illuminating.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I’d push back a bit on this. All the major outlets that were fooled WERE doing original reporting. They asked their sources within Volkswagen. And the lack of a domain name change is meaningless when it’s vw.com and a redirect could be setup.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Put me in the “meh” camp. I knew the first time I saw it that it was not real. VW would not put something as big as a corporate name change in a press release. There’d be some stupid build-up ad campaign for months and then the eventual unveiling at some major event and everyone would collectively shout “GABBO, GABBO, GABBO!!!”

    I certainly don’t think it warrants all the free advertising everyone’s been giving them since.

    • 0 avatar
      Maxb49

      “Put me in the “meh” camp. I knew the first time I saw it that it was not real.”

      I agree. It was evident that this was a hoax as soon as one realized that VW never filed for a trademark. BEVs are going to rise or fall on the ability to charge them to full or near capacity within the time it takes to refuel a gasoline car, cost, range, and battery degradation. Industry insiders know that until (and whether it is even possible) these serious problems are addressed, BEVs are going to count for a slim minority of car sales. Pressure from international governments to go “electric only” will only harm automakers and cause people to retain ownership of older cars.

  • avatar
    JMII

    It was lame and will be remembered as such. There was a time when VW did fun stuff like Unpimp Your Auto, Fahrvergnügen and the Darth Vader spot.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I’m in the “meh” camp. I’m reminded of a few of my undergraduate communication classes. “Voltswagen” seems like kind of bull$hit we’d come up with after some of our more mellow drugs kicked in.

  • avatar
    FerrariLaFerrariFace

    Had it actually been put out in the wild ON April Fools Day like it was supposedly intended, it’s not a half-bad marketing gimmick. Not laugh out loud hilarious, but a fun gag that also drives home a point about VW’s future plans.

    If it really was “leaked” early, then the real boneheaded moment was the follow-up confirmations they used to try to save the joke. They should have just come clean with an “oops” and called it a day.

  • avatar
    Cicero

    The press is probably the least credible institution in America today. I can’t get too worked up about the fact that Volkswagen lied to it.

    Garbage in, garbage out. Big deal.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    So someone at VW, probably with a degree in marketing, played a lame practical joke which may or may not have been made public sooner than planned. Now, let’s get back to making cars.

  • avatar
    MrIcky

    This is all down to timing. April fools jokes ONLY work on April 1st. Dressing up as a leprechaun and getting s#1t-faced is only going to annoy those around you on 2/28 (even in Boston). So sorta meh and sorta /facepalm. Maybe it played funnier to German audiences.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    People should spend less time looking for reasons to be upset. This is silly.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    VW PR 4
    TTAC -1

  • avatar
    Daveo

    Really? Who cares! It’s like the Mustang Mach-E complainers. It doesn’t take anything away from the Mustang. And as a VW enthusiast I think Voltswagen was a really fun idea.

    • 0 avatar
      Dawnrazor

      I think it was a fun idea too, people really need to unclench a bit and stop taking everything so damn seriously!

      I mean, it seems so obvious that it was done as a silly marketing prank, given how cheesy it is (like Dan said, it’s at the level of stoned high schoolers); I really think much of the gnashing of teeth in some circles is more due to the wounded pride from taking the gag seriously than anything else.

      Also, I think VW deserves at least a little credit for being a German car company that can throw out a joke which is completely benign and doesn’t negatively stereotype large swaths of their customer base!

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    TTAC did 5 posts on this in the span of 48 to 72 hours – so I would say it was highly effective.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    Nobody should be mad, period. Because nobody should have fallen for it.

    I dont even consider this in the realm of “Fake news” or misinformation. If you fell for it, just raise your hand and I will have Tommy here come by and hit you in the head with a tack hammer.

    Seemed an appropriate reference.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    This is a lot of ink to spill a topic that’s been talked about repeatedly over the last couple of days.

    I’d say if VW’s intent was free publicity, then, man, has it won.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      The proverbial “slow news day” … the “SND”, if you will.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Not sure if it was the right kind of publicity. Some may say all publicity is good publicity, but I’d challenge that with: not when you are being mocked by the general public and have now burned all trust with the automotive press.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        And just how bad is VW doing from all of that negative press from Dieselgate?

        The automotive press needs VW more than VW needs the segment of the automotive press that is getting all upset about this.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I won’t speak for international but VWoA has never been a serious player in USDM and likely is aiming to be. If I am covering automotive journalism, they drop to the bottom of my priority list and I know I wouldn’t be alone in that thinking.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I’m sure automotive journalist slack channels or whatever are all aflutter about this, and they should be, but I don’t think it has any relevance whatsoever for the general car-buying public.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Tesla’s PR department hasn’t misled anyone for awhile now.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Marketing. Sometimes a Master’s degree in bovine excrement is all you need!

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