Volkswagen's supervisory board on Friday condemned remarks made by the company's chief executive after he appeared to allude to a Nazi-era slogan when he attempted to describe the carmaker's earnings potential.
Diess issued a statement calling his use of the phrase "definitely an unfortunate choice of words", according to the BBC.
Speaking at a company event in Germany on Tuesday, Herbert Diess used the expression "Ebitmachtfrei" while talking about the automaker's profits.
Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess has apologised for comments made which appeared to play on a Nazi-era slogan, capping a rough week for the automaker battling a United States government lawsuit.
"It was in no way my intention to put my statement in the wrong context - I honestly didn't think it would at the time", he said.
Volkswagen was founded in 1937 by the German government with a mandate to mass-produce affordable vehicles.
The CEO apologized in a LinkedIn post for saying "Ebitmachtfrei" during an internal Volkswagen event this week, in a reference to the abbreviation for earnings before interest and tax, evoking the Nazi slogan "Arbeit machtfrei". Founded in 1937 as part of Adolf Hitler's vision for every German family to own a auto, Volkswagen used more than 15,000 slave laborers during the war as it manufactured vehicles for the German army. Within the Volkswagen Group, "brands with a higher margins have more freedom within the Group to make their own decisions".
Diess added that he, the company and its staff were "aware of the particular historical responsibility of Volkswagen in connection with the Third Reich".
VW said the SEC complaint is "legally and factually flawed" and the company will "contest it vigorously".