In Brief

Volkswagen boss apologises for evoking Nazi slogan

Herbert Diess made the comments during a company event at the firm’s headquarters in Wolfsburg

The chief executive of Volkswagen has apologised after evoking a Nazi death camp slogan during an annual company event.

Speaking at the German automaker’s headquarters in Wolfsburg on Tuesday, Herbert Diess repeatedly used the phrase “Ebit macht freit” while discussing the importance of boosting profits.

Ebit is an acronym that stands for earnings before interest and taxes.  

The phrase echoes the saying “Arbeit Macht Frei” – German for “work sets you free” – a slogan that was inscribed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

The comment “was even more shocking” coming from a senior executive at VW, a company which was founded by the Nazi regime and used slave labourers from concentration camps as part of its workforce during the Second World War, The Daily Telegraph says.

Employees said they were surprised by what sounded like pre-planned remarks.

“If he had only said it once, then perhaps you could argue it just slipped out,” one person was quoted as saying by Spiegel magazine. “But he repeated it too many times.”

Diess, a former BMW executive who was hired last year to oversee sweeping changes to the company, has since apologised to staff and customers.  

“At no time was it my intention for this statement to be placed in a false context,” he said. “At the time, I simply did not think of this possibility”.

The car giant has been involved in a number of scandals in recent years, including a mass recall due to faulty seatbelts in November and the use of emissions cheating devices in 2015.

“This is more negative publicity that Volkswagen can do without, especially in a climate that is so challenging and competitive for car manufacturers,” Christian Stadler, professor of strategic management at Warwick Business School, told City AM.

“VW has built its reputation on quality. The negative publicity could start to harm that.”

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