By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. In the prehistoric days, you’d say that the news came over the wires – wow, that sounds dated now, right? – so let’s just say the news came down from the cloud like a lightning bolt on Monday afternoon. As first reported by CNBC, a leaked Volkswagen press release dated April 29th announces that Volkswagen in the United States would, from here on out, be called Voltswagen.
Yes, you read that correctly. CNBC goes on to report that this name change would be a “public declaration of the company’s future-forward investment in e-mobility,” according to the VW press release. Apparently, this is no April Fool’s joke, as several sources confirmed that the upcoming release was authentic. The name Voltswagen would appear as a badge on all EV models, while gasoline vehicles will only have the company’s instantly recognizable – and classic – “VW” emblem. The release also says that the iconic VW logo would appear on a light blue background on EVs, while the VW logo on ICE-powered vehicles would appear on a dark blue background.
I suppose now would be a good time to take a step back, do a few deep breathing exercises, and sit quietly in the corner to reflect on what exactly is happening here. Oh, who am I kidding? In the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, “What the Hell is going on out there?!?!”
I get the fact that these auto manufacturers are embracing the transition to EVs at a furious clip, but clearly VW operatives here in the U.S. have decided that hitting their once and future customers over the head with this twist on their iconic name will ensure that they know that these actually are electric vehicles. I would have been more understanding if they had gotten the rights to use an image of Reddy Kilowatt on their electric vehicles; at least a sense of the legendary VW whimsy would be present and accounted for.
But this? This smacks of a VW operative/ad agency brainstorming session gone completely off of the rails. What thought process brought them to this fresh hell? Taking one of the iconic names in the history of the automobile business, messing with it, and then smugly smirking to themselves – and you know they are – saying something like, “Wow, that’s pretty damn clever,” is a level of delusional hubris that can only be found in three places: Hollywood. Washington, D.C. And the Auto Biz.
And it’s not even all that clever. In the ad game, we used to describe it as “one of those ideas that should have never seen the light of day.” Or, “it should have never left the conference room.” And indeed, this is one of those ideas. It might have (weakly) passed muster as a digital headline, or for a show-pony billboard on Sunset Boulevard, but actually changing the name as it appears on their EVs? How about NO?
Listen, I know VW is still chasing the bad taste and the crushing financial hangover from the Diesel fiasco in their nightmares, but this is beyond ridiculous. VW operatives turning their backs on 90 years of history is akin to BMW relegating the “Bimmer” nickname to the dustbin of history and going with “Glimmer” to refer to their EVs instead. Or Bentley suddenly going with BENTLEV. It just doesn’t compute. Or, Coca-Cola going with “Electric Coke.” Or, “Arm and Hammer” going with “Knuckles and Sockets.” Or John Deere changing its name to, oh, I don’t know, let’s say, “Horace Conduit.”
As in why? What is the point, exactly? Consumers aren’t stupid. Does anyone actually think that in today’s tedious world of 24/7 information saturation, word won’t somehow trickle out that most, if not all, of VW’s new vehicles in this market will be EVs within five years? Not a frickin’ chance.
If VW operatives stopped with using the different color backgrounds on the VW logos to distinguish between their EVs and ICE vehicles I’d say, fine, makes sense, seems logical, do it. But putting all of their cards on the table and changing their legendary name to Voltswagen just to make a definitive point? It’s just flat-out dumb.
This move will buy two things for VW: 1. Confusion. And, 2. A Big Fat Yawn. As in, no one could possibly be bothered to give a shit. Judging by the boatloads of hubris flying around Herndon, Virginia, these days, I am sure VW operatives are so far down the road on this that they’ve forgotten what the brand even used to stand for.
Gimmicks don’t have much of a shelf life in this business. Never have, never will. But this is far beyond that. This is dumbassery of the first degree.
And that’s the High-Electron Truth for this week.
Editor-in-Chief’s Note: On Tuesday (March 30th), VW confirmed that the company is not changing its name to Voltswagen and that it indeed was an elaborate April Fool’s joke/prank. The free publicity was probably worth $25 million or so, but the damage to VW’s relations with the professional automotive media is incalculable. This is the company, after all, that is still reeling from the DieselGate fiasco, when it purposely rigged its Diesel-powered cars to cheat on the EPA emissions testing procedure in order to pass the test, resulting in hundreds of thousands of cars being driven around that exceeded emissions standards. The VW Group did this, all the while touting – and heavily marketing – its “clean diesels” as if they had figured out what other automakers couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do. As it turns out, it was all a lie, and because of it VW has paid $40 billion – and counting – to settle lawsuits and damage claims resulting from the most egregious and calculated fraud in automotive history. The word as to why this “joke” happened is that VW operatives were feeling slighted by all the publicity that other automakers were getting for their EV vehicle plans, and they wanted to get attention for their efforts to go fully-EV by the end of this decade. Well, they got attention all right, the wrong kind. My informal polling with colleagues in the auto media suggests that this “stunt” has backfired, and in a big way too. VW is now not only mistrusted, it is flat-out loathed, and these working professionals aren’t going to forget this anytime soon. In case you were wondering, are we going to take down this column now? No. Now they’re even guiltier of dumbassery. – PMDPMD