As you know by now, Volkswagen pulled the wool over the eyes of the automotive media, the business media, and the general public in a terribly executed April Fool’s Day prank over the past few days.
The company may have done more than anger a few people — it may have run afoul of regulators.
It’s one thing to have journalists and car enthusiasts angry on Twitter. VW could brush that off easily enough. But according to the Associated Press, Volkswagen may be in trouble because its fake statement moved the market.
From the AP:
“The fake release could land Volkswagen in trouble with U.S. securities regulators because its stock price rose nearly 5% on Tuesday, the day the bogus statement was officially issued. Investors of late have been responding positively to news of companies increasing electric vehicle production, swelling the value of shares of Tesla as well as of some EV startups.”
James Cox, a professor of corporate and securities law at Duke University, told the AP that the Securities and Exchange Commission should take some sort of action against VW. He said this kind of misinformation can cause the market to be warped.
“The whole market has gone crazy,” Cox said in the article. “We need to throw a pretty clear line in the sand, I believe, about what is permissible and what isn’t permissible.”
The article then reminds us of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s shenanigans in 2018 when he tweeted that he had funding to take the company private. He, of course, had no such funding lined up, and Musk and Tesla both agreed to pay $20 million in penalty fees.
On the other hand, maybe VW has no reason to worry. Another professor, this one a business and law professor at the University of Michigan, points out that for the SEC to penalize VW, the company would’ve had to have been knowingly trying to manipulate its stock price, as opposed to using an incredibly terribly executed April Fool’s gag to market electric vehicles.
This gentleman, Eric Gordon, then gave the AP reporter one of the better quotes I’ve seen today (it’s early, though): “I don’t think the SEC is going to see this as stock price manipulation any more than when General Motors or Ford or Toyota or anybody talks about their (electric vehicle) future,” Gordon said. “It is incredibly stupid, but if being stupid were illegal, a third of the CEOs in the U.S. would be in jail.”
As I wrote yesterday evening, it’s common for companies to perform April Fool’s Day pranks. It is very uncommon for companies to deliberately lie to reporters when asked to confirm if a prank is actually a joke.
Especially a company like VW, which has that whole diesel-emissions scandal baggage hanging over it. While it may seem like it happened ages ago, that scandal became known to the public less than six years ago.
I’ll close it out with one more quote from the world of academia via the AP: “The problem is that in the short run, you can fool people, and it seems cute and entertaining. But in the long run, you really do need positive and good relations with the media. For a company that already has credibility problems, this is really a strange move,” said Tim Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University.
April 2 can’t come soon enough.