Watch: New Volkswagen ad takes a shot at Subaru

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Words: Matthew Hansen
7 Apr 2021

Let’s just say it’s been a weird few weeks for Volkswagen. Days after it was confirmed that the brand would be going after its former CEO over ‘Dieselgate’, it embarked on one of the most botched and bizarre April Fools gags in motoring history — briefly renaming itself ‘Voltswagen’ in the North American market, before the hallowed April 1st, only to backtrack on the day.

Now, perhaps sensing that it needs to release some positive news onto the airwaves (or wanting to further milk the media attention it got from the Voltswagen saga), it’s come out with a new advert for the fully electric ID.4.

The ad invisions the new SUV as ‘part of the family’, while pushing hard to be relatable to everyday people. You can watch the advert in full below.

“Before it can change the world, it has to change yours” says the voiceover at the end, the on-screen mantra “the first electric SUV for everyone” flashing on screen — underlining that the ID.4 wants to be seen and owned by mainstream buyers. Not just early adopters.

The one element of the ad that has car enthusiasts abuzz, though, is its brief potshot at Subaru. While the ID.4 drives up a tree-lined road, the passenger says; “before, we couldn’t take in the sweet sounds of nature”. A new Subaru Outback passes by simultaneously, covered in bumper stickers and dirt — the lady adding “seriously?”

Most have interpreted the advert as being a direct questioning of Subaru’s supposed ‘environmental credentials’. The Outback in the ad features a recycling bumper sticker, a ‘peace’ sticker, and one that says ‘I love nature’. The shot of the Outback’s sticker-laden rear end lingers on screen for quite some time — showing some of the brand’s intent.

Subaru doesn’t currently produce a fully electric car, offering only a handful of hybrids — including electrified ‘e-Boxer’ versions of the XV and Forester. Volkswagen seems to have made a slight error in its characterisation of Subaru; if anything the brand’s association with the environment is more to do with the ability to explore it thanks to the WRC-honed symmetrical all-wheel drive in all its cars than any kind of EV-related posturing.

What may have played a part with Volkswagen’s advert is Subaru’s position in the US as being a brand that’s embraced by politically liberal buyers. It’s well known that Subaru specifically targeted women with its marketing in the 1990s, leading to an association with liberal-minded voters that lives on in the US today.

“When we did the research, we found pockets of the country like Northampton, Massachusetts, and Portland, Oregon, where the head of the household would be a single person—and often a woman,” former Subaru director of marketing Tim Bennett told The Atlantic in an often cited 2016 interview.

The Atlantic report went on to detail that Subaru’s marketing of the period often targetted members of the LGBTQ community. “I can’t emphasize enough that this was before there was any positive discussion [of LGBT issues],” Beckett added.

When push comes to shove, the Volkswagen jab is a fairly playful one. But, if they’re prepared to dish out such shots, the German firm and its Dieselgate past should be prepared to cop return fire …

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