Dieselgate Forces Volkswagen to Highlight Rivals' Products

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

As part of its penance for pumping untold amounts of smog-causing pollutants into America’s air over the span of roughly six years, Volkswagen paid a steep price.
Yes, there was the financial cost of the diesel scandal — a price tag topping $20 billion, covering fines, buybacks, repairs, etc. Then there was the shame, with VW execs issuing public apologies so frequently, you’d think they were congressmen.

As fines and public apologies aren’t that uncommon in the automotive sphere, it’s the third act that must really grind the gears of execs in Wolfsburg. The automaker now has to do something no self-respecting car company would ever do: It has to showcase another company’s products, and not in a bad light.

Electrify America, a VW subsidiary created in 2016 as part of the automaker’s environmental remediation efforts, has an ad out. You remember Electrify America — it’s the initiative the U.S. government forced VW to spend $2 billion on over the course of 10 years. Its aim: to promote zero-emission vehicles, educate the public, and build recharging infrastructure.

SEE ALSO: VW Slapped with Billion Euro Dieselgate Fine

One key part of VW’s agreement is that its messages must be brand neutral. Otherwise, it could just showcase the e-Golf and boast about its upcoming I.D. line of electric vehicles. Nope, that won’t fly with the feds.

And so, in Electrify America’s new ad, we see no Volkswagens, at least not at first. And not specifically. Instead, we see products from other automakers. Essentially, it’s an ad touting the virtues of the Chevrolet Bolt while slamming — quite amusingly — Subaru, which fields no electric vehicles.

It opens with an orange Subaru Outback chugging through an arid landscape, smug flannel-and-vest-clothed driver behind the wheel, “Planet Hugger” sticker clinging valiantly to the rear bumper. The theme from The Flintstones reaches our ears. At a stoplight, an orange Bolt pulls alongside, the man’s alter ego behind the wheel. From our speakers comes the unmistakable theme song from The Jetsons, implying this driver, and his car, is highly evolved. The two men exchange glances. Now, it’s the Bolt driver’s turn to look smug.

As the light goes green, the Outback driver looks on, discouraged, as the Bolt rockets away from the stop with barely a whisper. Cut the theme music, and cue the buy-an-EV message. The Bolt then drives past a woman charging her Hyundai Ioniq EV, though, unlike the Bolt, we can’t see the logo on the front of the car. It ends with a group of EVs, filmed from the rear, racing down a darkened highway, presumably towards a glorious, green future. In that group we see the Bolt, a Honda Clarity, Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, and yes, an e-Golf.

When you’ve got the feds standing over you, holding a whip, normal automaker rivalry becomes a thing of the past.

A version of this story originally appeared on The Truth About Cars.

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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