For 65 years, Volkswagen has been one of the most popular and best-known names in American motoring, its iconic VW Beetle snaring generations of enthusiasts and helping sell millions of vehicles.
But now, in North America at least, the Volkswagen brand is no more. In what was initially thought to be an April Fool’s prank, apparently thanks to a premature announcement by an overeager publicist, the German auto giant has confirmed its metamorphosis into Voltswagen – an attempt to reflect its investment in the growing electric vehicle (EV) market.
A statement posted to Volkswagen’s US website on Tuesday hailed the move, which takes effect on 21 May, as “a public declaration of the company’s future-forward investment in e-mobility”.
The company’s new ID4, billed as its “first long-range, all-electric, zero direct emission sports utility vehicle”, goes on sale in the US this month.
“We might be changing out our K for a T, but what we aren’t changing is this brand’s commitment to making best-in-class vehicles for drivers and people everywhere,” said Scott Keogh, president and chief executive of the new Voltswagen of America, which has operated under its old name since 1955.
“We have said from the beginning of our shift to an electric future that we will build EVs for the millions, not just millionaires. This name change signifies a nod to our past as the peoples’ car and our firm belief that our future is in being the peoples’ electric car.”
The handling of the rollout of the name change, however, appeared somewhat less smooth than the chief executive’s statement.
On Monday, VW hastily retracted a press release mistakenly posted to its website and dated 29 April, but not before it was spotted by the US TV network CNBC, which published a story.
Others wondered if it was an April Fool’s joke from a company headquartered in Germany, a country with a centuries-old tradition of such pranks.
With the cat out of the bag, VW was forced to admit the story was true. It hastily put together a new statement that appeared on its website on Tuesday.
It said the name Voltswagen would start appearing in company branding immediately, and that an emblem bearing the name would appear on all its electric vehicles. Its range of petrol cars will sport only a VW badge.
As Volkswagen, since a huge scandal over emissions in 2015, the company has been keen to tout its green credentials. It claims to be the first major automaker to support the goals of the Paris climate agreement, with a target of a 30% reduction in its carbon footprint by 2025, and net-carbon neutrality by 2050.
The company has committed to sell one million EVs worldwide by 2025, and launch more than 70 electric models across all 12 VW group brands, including Audi, Seat, Skoda, Bentley and Porsche, by 2029.
Electric vehicles, however, remain a hard sell in the gas-hungry US, despite it being the home of industry pioneer Tesla. Only 328,000 EVs were sold in the country in 2020, a fraction of the 3.24m sold worldwide.