Volkswagen of America issued false statements this week saying it would change its brand name to “Voltswagen” as a way to stress its commitment to electric vehicles, only to reverse course on Tuesday and admit that the supposed name change was just a joke.
Mark Gillies, a company spokesman, confirmed on Tuesday that the statement had been a pre-April Fool’s Day joke, after having insisted Monday that the release was legitimate and the name change accurate.
The company’s false statement was distributed again on Tuesday, saying the brand name change reflected VW’s switch to more battery-electric vehicles.
Volkswagen’s intentionally fake news release, 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 that about 11m 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 $35bn (30bn euros) in fines and civil settlements and led to the recall of millions of vehicles.
The company’s fake news release, leaked on Monday and 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.
This story was replaced with an updated one, and the headline was changed, on Tuesday 30 March to reflect the fact that earlier versions first stated that the company had confirmed it would change its name and later reported conflicting accounts suggesting it could be a joke.