Scott Keogh, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, spoke with Automotive News Publisher Jason Stein for the “Daily Drive” podcast after the Voltswagen prank. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: A number of reporters came to your company after the release was posted briefly on your website and then taken down and story after story, including our own Automotive News story, said the change to Voltswagen was true, attributing it to a source. Your people had an opportunity to knock the story down, yet didn’t. Give me your side of that.
A: This is an idea that came up from the marketing side. We could do two things. Let’s do something cheeky, a little bit of a gag. Here we are at April Fools’ to say we are so fanatical about electrification that we’re going to change the very name of the company.
I think clearly, without a doubt, there was zero point zero intent to deceive and mislead. The intent was to get people to bite on the joke.
One respected national reporter tweeted, “I won’t blame Volkswagen PR marketing or even the source. I blame myself. While this may be a funny April Fools’ Day prank to some, I’ve been sick to my stomach.” How do you react to that?
Obviously, I feel bad. The intent was not to embarrass a journalist, to make a journalist look bad. The intent was to have a little bit of fun and get us focused on electrification.
What can both sides learn?
I think trust is paramount to everything. And as you know, trust doesn’t get built by a release. Trust doesn’t get built by a proclamation. It comes day in and day out.
You and I have talked last fall about transparency and about VW being authentic to itself, authentic to its customers. I don’t need to get into the history and to go back five or six years. And you’ve been very outspoken about being transparent and authentic with your customer base. So was there just a hint of irony in this?
I see the irony. But sometimes, you have to push back a little bit. This was a gag. It was a letter change of a name that had no website behind it, no trademark. It was on the week of April Fools’. I really don’t see the link that says, “OK, they lied about TDI, outrageous, outrageous,” and then make the association to this.
Would you do it again?
I would do it again; I would oversee the execution better. I’d be taking a little bit more time, maybe done one day, a little bit of a tweak. But this is all hindsight 20/20.