WASHINGTON — The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has opened an inquiry into the U.S. unit of Volkswagen's AG over a marketing stunt in which it falsely said it was changing its name in the United States to "Voltswagen," a person briefed on the matter confirmed.
Der Spiegel first reported the inquiry and the SEC's request for information about the issue made in early April, and quoted VW as confirming the investigation.
Volkswagen declined to comment on the matter to Reuters. The SEC did not respond to a request for comment.
The company in March apologized after a false statement it issued about a phony name change, a stunt that was widely slammed on social media. The falsehood sparked particular outrage coming from a company that has been working to rebuild public trust after its diesel emissions cheating scandal.
The stunt, which came a couple of days before April Fool’s Day on the first of the month, a day when companies often release prank statements, was meant to call attention to its electric vehicle efforts, the carmaker said.
A supposedly statement outlining the name change was reported by Reuters and other outlets globally. It included a detailed description of VW's purported rebranding efforts and new logos. Before running with the story, news outlets asked Volkswagen if the name change was true, they were assured it was, and the next day VW issued a press release and social media reports outlining the name change, even quoting VW of America CEO Scott Keogh to that effect.
At least one analyst wrote a research note praising the name change. VW’s preferred shares, common shares and ADRs rose on the day of the phony name announcement.
Keogh then told Reuters in an April 1 interview that the phony name announcement was a "gag" and an attempt to "have some humor" and "to celebrate our profound focus on electrification."
Volkswagen in 2015 admitted to using illegal software to rig diesel engine tests in the United States, sparking Germany’s biggest corporate crisis and costing the carmaker more than 32 billion euros in fines, refits and legal costs.