"EBIT" stands for "earnings before income and taxes", but his choice of words echoed the phrase "arbeit macht frei", which translates to "work will set you free".
Herbert Diess, CEO of German carmaker Volkswagen is surrounded by media during the annual news conference at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, Germany March 12, 2019.
"It was in no way my intention to put this statement in a false context", Diess wrote on LinkedIn on Wednesday.More news: Police in Brick arrest accused killer of reputed mob boss
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Diess said "Ebit macht frei" during an internal Volkswagen event, evoking memories of "Arbeit macht frei", the words that appeared prominently at the entrance of Nazi concentration camps including Auschwitz. Volkswagen is betting its future on electric cars He said his comments were meant to highlight Volkswagen's strong profits, not cause offense.
Herbert Diess apologised on Thursday for a speech at a company event in which he repeatedly told VW employees: "EBIT macht frei". Within Volkswagen, "brands with a higher margins have more freedom within the Group to make their own decisions".
In 1938, Adolf Hitler himself laid the foundation stone for the first Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg in northern Germany, tasked with building an affordable auto for all Germans - which would go on to become the iconic Beetle. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert declined to comment.
VW's powerful works council welcomed Diess's "swift clarification and unequivocal apology" for the remark, adding that remembrance and responsibility are part of the company's DNA.