Volkswagen joke flops

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Most folks seemed to get the joke back in 1996 when Taco Bell published full-page ads in major U.S. newspapers announcing the company had purchased the Liberty Bell and was officially renaming it “The Taco Liberty Bell.” The first reaction was outrage.

But then the publication date -- April Fools’ Day -- made clear that this was just a prank. A really funny prank, once people figured it out.

Volkswagen tried something similar last week, but the joke fizzled badly -- mainly because the German company was two days premature with its prank announcing that it was renaming itself “Voltswagen” to reorient its U.S. division toward production of electric cars.

Following the announcement by General Motors that it would switch to sole production of zero-emission, mainly electric vehicles by 2035, business reporters took the VW announcement seriously. They had to quickly retract and correct their stories when a VW spokesman declared it a premature April Fools’ Day joke. The Daily Sentinel and many papers across the U.S. published the original story and the retraction.

The company’s stock price tumbled and prompted speculation that Securities and Exchange Commission punishment could follow. Maybe next time big companies will think twice about hoodwinking the public.

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