Volkswagen's chief executive officer has apologised for alluding to a Nazi propaganda slogan while speaking at a company meeting.

Herbert Diess used the pun 'EBIT macht frei' during a speech at the firm's management gathering on Tuesday. 

"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". 

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The latter slogan was famously emblazoned across the entrance of the Auschwitz death camp.

Mr Diess told Wirtschafts Woche magazine that he had not intended to cause offence.

"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.

"It was in fact a very unfortunate choice of words and if I unintentionally hurt any feelings, I am truly sorry."

Mr Diess added that he and the company were "aware of the particular historical responsibility of Volkswagen in connection with the Third Reich".

The Volkswagen Beetle was developed in Nazi Germany, after being conceived in the early 1930s by engineer Ferdinand Porsche.

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Mr Porsche was commissioned by Adolf Hitler to develop a mass production car that could carry a family of four.


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