Volkswagen withdrew on Wednesday an advert posted on its official Instagram page for its Golf cars that it admitted was racist and insulting, saying it would investigate how it came about and draw consequences.
The German car company, which has seen its reputation tarnished in the last five years after it admitted cheating diesel emissions tests, said it did not tolerate any form of racism.
The advert on Instagram features large pale-skinned hands seeming to push and then flick a black man away from a shiny new yellow Golf parked on a street.
German television noted that the hand could be interpreted as making a “white power” gesture, while letters that appear on the screen afterwards briefly spell out a racist slur in German.
Juergen Stackmann, the VW brand’s board member for sales and marketing, and Elke Heitmueller, head of diversity management, took to Twitter and LinkedIn to apologise.
“We understand the public outrage at this. Because we’re horrified, too. This video is an insult to all achievements of the civil rights movement. It is an insult to every decent person,” they wrote.
“We at Volkswagen are 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.”
Founded on orders by Adolf Hitler to build the “people’s car”, VW employed forced labourers for the Nazi war effort.
A Volkswagen spokesman said agencies usually produce its advertising campaigns and it was investigating where the mistake happened and would make it public when it found out.