Volkswagen of America issued false statements this week saying it would change its brand name to Voltswagen to stress its commitment to electric vehicles – but has now admitted it was joking.
Mark Gillies, a company spokesman, confirmed on Tuesday the statement had been a pre-April Fool’s Day joke, after having insisted on Monday the release was legitimate and the name change accurate.
The company’s fake news release, leaked on Monday and then repeated in a mass e-mail to reporters on Tuesday, resulted in articles about the name change in multiple media outlets, including The Associated Press.
The prank, highly unusual for a major public company, coincides with its efforts to repair its image as it tries to recover from a 2015 scandal in which it cheated on government emissions tests and allowed diesel-powered vehicles to illegally pollute the air.
In that scandal, Volkswagen admitted some 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide were fitted with the deceptive software, which reduced nitrogen oxide emissions when the cars were placed on a test machine, but allowed higher emissions and improved engine performance during normal driving.
The scandal cost Volkswagen 35 billion dollars (£25.4 billion) in fines and civil settlements and led to the recall of millions of vehicles.