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The 9-second spot, called “Petit Colon,” which was recently posted on the carmaker’s social media pages, opens on a wide shot of a city street. Then, a large, first-person white hand plucks a black pedestrian away from a car and into a café over a colorful melody in the background.
The ad, meant to promote the company’s VW Golf 8, has since been pulled.
“We posted a racist advertising video on Volkswagen's Instagram channel,” Volkswagen said in a statement sent to FOX Business. “This video is an insult to all achievements of the Civil Rights movement. It is an insult to every decent person.” It added the company is “aware of the historical origins and the guilt of our company during the Nazi Regime. That is precisely why we resolutely oppose all forms of hatred, slander/propaganda and discrimination.”
Social media outcry called the ad racist and users demanded answers from the company, prompting the head of sales and marketing, Jürgen Stackmann, also tweeted about the advertisement Thursday.
“I sincerely apologize as an individual in my capacity as a board member at Volkswagen Sales & Marketing. Hatred, racism and discrimination have no place at Volkswagen!” he said. “In this case, I will personally ensure full transparency and consequences!”
In an attached statement, Volkswagen’s head of diversity, Elke Heitmüller, Stackmann said the commercial “offends every decent person” and the company understands the public outrage because “we are horrified ourselves."
"We are ashamed of it and cannot explain [how it came about]," he added. "We will make the results and consequences of the investigation public."
The title of the ad, "Petit Colon," is also the name of the cafe. In French, the name translates to "Little Colonist."
“We apologize on behalf of Volkswagen AG to the entire public,” Volkswagen said. “And we especially apologize to those who feel personally hurt by the racist content through their own history.”
The flub comes after Volkswagen released its first-quarter financials, in which it revealed earnings took a hit during the coronavirus pandemic. Operating profit before special items in the quarter fell to 900 million euros, or $975 million, from 3.9 billion euros, or about $4.27 billion, the previous year.
Shares of the German automaker hovered around $15.19 Thursday afternoon and have fallen roughly 18 percent in the last three months.