By on March 31, 2021

As you know by now, Volkswagen pulled the wool over the eyes of the automotive media, the business media, and the general public in a terribly executed April Fool’s Day prank over the past few days.

The company may have done more than anger a few people — it may have run afoul of regulators.

It’s one thing to have journalists and car enthusiasts angry on Twitter. VW could brush that off easily enough. But according to the Associated Press, Volkswagen may be in trouble because its fake statement moved the market.

From the AP: 

“The fake release could land Volkswagen in trouble with U.S. securities regulators because its stock price rose nearly 5% on Tuesday, the day the bogus statement was officially issued. Investors of late have been responding positively to news of companies increasing electric vehicle production, swelling the value of shares of Tesla as well as of some EV startups.”

James Cox, a professor of corporate and securities law at Duke University, told the AP that the Securities and Exchange Commission should take some sort of action against VW. He said this kind of misinformation can cause the market to be warped.

“The whole market has gone crazy,” Cox said in the article. “We need to throw a pretty clear line in the sand, I believe, about what is permissible and what isn’t permissible.”

The article then reminds us of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s shenanigans in 2018 when he tweeted that he had funding to take the company private. He, of course, had no such funding lined up, and Musk and Tesla both agreed to pay $20 million in penalty fees.

On the other hand, maybe VW has no reason to worry. Another professor, this one a business and law professor at the University of Michigan, points out that for the SEC to penalize VW, the company would’ve had to have been knowingly trying to manipulate its stock price, as opposed to using an incredibly terribly executed April Fool’s gag to market electric vehicles.

This gentleman, Eric Gordon, then gave the AP reporter one of the better quotes I’ve seen today (it’s early, though): “I don’t think the SEC is going to see this as stock price manipulation any more than when General Motors or Ford or Toyota or anybody talks about their (electric vehicle) future,” Gordon said. “It is incredibly stupid, but if being stupid were illegal, a third of the CEOs in the U.S. would be in jail.”

As I wrote yesterday evening, it’s common for companies to perform April Fool’s Day pranks. It is very uncommon for companies to deliberately lie to reporters when asked to confirm if a prank is actually a joke.

Especially a company like VW, which has that whole diesel-emissions scandal baggage hanging over it. While it may seem like it happened ages ago, that scandal became known to the public less than six years ago.

I’ll close it out with one more quote from the world of academia via the AP: “The problem is that in the short run, you can fool people, and it seems cute and entertaining. But in the long run, you really do need positive and good relations with the media. For a company that already has credibility problems, this is really a strange move,” said Tim Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University.

April 2 can’t come soon enough.

[Image: Voltswagen Volkswagen]

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19 Comments on “Volkswagen Prank Not Just Fun and Games...”

  • avatar

    In a related story the White house press secretary is expected to announce tomorrow “April fools, we actually didn’t elect a dementia patient to lead the free world”

    • 0 avatar

      That’s even funnier than electing a game show host who had not so much as served on a ciry council before taking over the White House.

      • 0 avatar

        The way things are going a reality show whose winner becomes inaugurated would likely yield a better result.

      • 0 avatar

        “Game show host” is the least of Trump’s resume. Say what you want about him as a person, and his demeanor. But our system was supposed to be made up ‘by the people’ not an elite class of career politicians. Electing someone to serve in office is NOTHING like hiring a lawyer or a mechanic, where prior experience in that specific field is relevant. Results matter. Biden has done literally zilch of any good in 40 years unless you want to talk about how he’s undermined minorities. Compare the results of Trump’s 4 years vs Biden’s 6 weeks. We are NOT on a trend for the better, Ill eat my hat if anyone can show me otherwise.

      • 0 avatar

        And that benefited our country because that game show host put in place some of the best policies we have had in decades unlike the current sleepy creepy guy. Sometimes it takes fresh blood and ideas to get away from the same old good ‘ol boy swamp mentality.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s OK you must have been having a nightmare: Tronald Dump was not re-elected.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Unbridled umbrage, wringing of hands, gnashing of teeth by journalists and college professors. Two groups making their living by communicating. Doesn’t have to well thought out or insightful communication just as long as it’s communication. Until the SEC files a lawsuit this is important as the strings tied to a fan flapping in the wind.

  • avatar

    Plaintiffs’ lawyers working on contingency will do their best to make this into a market manipulation case, but it’s just not. It wasn’t aimed at investors in the same way as Elon’s moronic tweet. I would be very surprised if the SEC took any action.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    “It is incredibly stupid, but if being stupid were illegal, a third of the CEOs in the U.S. would be in jail.”

    Quote of the week.

  • avatar

    Am I the only one here who doesn’t care about this?

  • avatar
    Matt Posky

    While I predicted VW would walk this terrible idea/joke/whatever back, it really shouldn’t qualify as an April Fools’ joke. The release read as quite serious, came out a full three days early, and VW confirmed it as real to multiple sources

    They might as well claim Dieselgate was an out of season April Fools’ joke.

  • avatar

    Truely hilarious, so the AP reporter found a professor that supported what they wanted to write, though at least they had the decency to include the other side too.

    “The whole market has gone crazy,” Cox said.

    On this point he is correct but it is the market that has gone crazy, ie the investors that are crazy. The fact that shares moved up 5% as this got around proves that there are a lot of irrational investors in today’s market. Unfortunately those irrational investors frequently drag the rational ones along with them.

    The fact that the stock price did see a nice movement upward does point to the fact that this stunt was very successful in getting VW wide ranging press and more than a couple of people thought it was a good thing.

  • avatar

    Looks like the stunt worked. Share price is up and people still talking about it.

    As far as maintaining a good relationship with the media, the past cheeto-in-chief stoked a negative relationship to his advantage.

    If “serious” journalists just walked away, this would have died a quick and quiet death.

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