[FRANKFURT] Car giant Volkswagen said Wednesday it was sorry for a publicity stunt that duped major media outlets and was criticised by AFP news agency as a "breach of trust".
The outrage came after Volkswagen just a day earlier said in a press release it would be changing the name of its US subsidiary to "Voltswagen" to highlight its shift towards electric cars.
The announcement raised eyebrows but company spokespeople insisted it was genuine, resulting in widespread media coverage before VW eventually revealed the rebrand was a joke dreamt up by its marketing team.
In a statement sent to AFP, Volkswagen of America said its marketing campaign had sought to draw attention to VW's e-offensive "in a fun and interesting way" as "an April Fool's Day effort".
"The many positive responses on social media showed that this campaign resonated with consumers," it said.
"At the same time, we realise the announcement rollout upset some people and we are sorry about any confusion this has caused."
Reporters reacted angrily to the stunt, with some saying it was tone-deaf coming from a company still recovering from the 2015 "dieselgate" scandal, when the German automaker was forced to admit it had for years used cheating software in cars to skirt emissions tests.
Phil Chetwynd, global news director of AFP, wrote to Volkswagen Group to protest against the deception.
"We understand when a spokesperson is not in a position to confirm or comment on a piece of information. But we never expect them to make false statements," he wrote.
"We strongly think serious journalists and news outlets should not be used by companies like Volkswagen for marketing and advertising purposes. For us it is a very grave breach of trust which must not be repeated."
USA Today business reporter Nathan Bomey also voiced anger, accusing VW of lying to reporters.
"This was not a joke. It was deception. In case you hadn't noticed, we have a misinformation problem in this country. Now you're part of it. Why should anyone trust you again?" he tweeted.
Shares in the VW group climbed nearly five per cent in Frankfurt on Tuesday on the "Voltswagen" announcement. On Wednesday, VW stock closed 0.8 per cent lower.