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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 while a colorful melody plays 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,” the company 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.” Volkswagen added that it is also “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.”
Still, social media outcry persisted and users demanded answers from the company, prompting the head of sales and marketing, Jürgen Stackmann, to take to Twitter Thursday to address the matter.
“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 wrote. “In this case, I will personally ensure full transparency and consequences!”
In an attached statement, the automaker's head of diversity, Elke Heitmüller, said the public outrage is understandable because “we are horrified ourselves."
"We are ashamed of it and cannot explain [how it came about]," he said. "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."
The flub comes after Volkswagen released its first-quarter financials, in which it revealed earnings have taken 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 firm hovered around $15.19 Thursday afternoon and have fallen roughly 18 percent in the last three months.