Briefly as a spokeswoman reads the phrase “Der Neue Golf,” or “the new Golf,” as it appears on the screen, the letters materialize in an order that briefly spells the German n-word.
The company, which also produces the brands Audi, Skoda, Seat and Porsche, removed the video, but it was reposted by critics on social media.
Volkswagen board member Juergen Stackmann and Elke Heitmueller, the company’s head of diversity management, said in a joint statement that they were “horrified” by the ad and that the company was “aware” of its “historical origins.”
Volkswagen was founded by the Nazi government in the 1930s to build the “people’s car,” and used slave labor from concentration camps in its manufacturing processes.
“That is precisely why we resolutely oppose all forms of hatred, slander/propaganda and discrimination,” the statement said.
“I sincerely apologize as an individual in my capacity as a board member at Volkswagen Sales & Marketing,” Stackmann added in a tweet. “Hatred, racism and discrimination have no place at Volkswagen! In this case, I will personally ensure full transparency and consequences!”
The company, which is the world’s largest automaker, is still reeling from an emissions scandal in 2016. Volkswagen programmed “defeat devices” into two-liter diesel engines to turn off emissions measurement data outside of laboratory settings. Those engines spewed 40 times the legal limit of harmful nitrogen oxides.
Settling the issue required a major consumer buyback program that put the company on the back foot and cut its stock price in half. Volkswagen still has not regained the lost share value.
News of the advertisement imbroglio did not affect its stock, which traded up modestly higher to close at $15.50.
But Volkswagen’s public image has not stayed out of the spotlight since. Audi in 2017 ran a commercial in China comparing women to used cars. Last year, Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess mimicked a Nazi slogan when discussing a metric of the company’s finances. The company apologized for both incidents.
Stackmann and Heitmueller said they “cannot explain” how this latest ad was released. They said the company will investigate and make public the “results and consequences.”