Just over a month ago, Volkswagen USA caused a media storm by forgetting that an April Fool’s joke doesn’t quite work if it’s released in March. First revealed via a press release posted by ‘accident’, company insiders insisted an apparent name change to ‘Voltswagen of America’ wasn’t a joke, and there was even an official announcement two days before 1 April.
The gag was taken so seriously that US-held shares rose by 12.5 per cent, and that’s caught the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). According to Der Spiegel, the organisation is investigating correlations between the stunt and stock market rises.
The investigations are said to be at an early stage, and VW is cooperating with the SEC. At the time of the Voltswagen thing, VW of America told the Financial Times that influencing stock market prices “was not and is not the aim of the campaign”. When contacted by the FT regarding the SEC probe, the company wouldn’t comment.
VW may be hit with a fine, although any penalties are likely to be a drop in the ocean compared to the billions of euros of sanctions it’s shelled out for in the wake of Dieselgate. For an example of how much the fiasco might cost the company, we could look to Tesla.
The company and its CEO Elon Musk were each fined $20 million for the latter’s “false and misleading” tweet about the company supposedly being taken private, a claim which resulted in Tesla’s stock price surging by 14 per cent. Musk reached an agreement with the SEC to remain CEO of Tesla while stepping down as chairman.