VW chief calls for settlement to end war in Ukraine to help EU economy

The head of Volkswagen called on the EU to continue negotiations on resolving the war in Ukraine for the benefit of the continent’s economy, in an intervention that challenges the position of European leaders.

“I think we should do everything we can to really stop this war and go back to negotiations and trying to open up the world again,” Herbert Diess told the Future of the Car summit for the Financial Times on Monday.

“I don’t think we should give up on open markets and free trade, and I don’t think we should give up on negotiating and trying to settle.”

VW CEO’s comments came a day after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz vowed to continue supplying Ukraine with weapons, adding that “capitulation to brute force” is not an option for Europe.

Although his stance has been publicly backed by German industry, supply chain disruptions – exacerbated by the war in Ukraine – continue to hurt those like Volkswagen, the world’s second-largest carmaker.

The lack of wiring harnesses produced in the country has forced the company to cut production in recent weeks, and VW has sold out electric models in the US and Europe in a year.

Diess said that if global trade continues to fight, “Europe will suffer the most, and so will Germany, but I think it will be bad for the whole world.”

His remarks come as Germany debates whether it can withstand a sudden cut-off in Russian gas supplies. A new study by a government adviser found that the German economy could lose about 12 percent of its annual output if supplies were cut short.

Volkswagen’s Diess, which previously warned that a protracted war would do more harm to Germany and Europe than the Covid-19 pandemic, has drawn criticism for previous comments.

In 2019, he apologized after using the phrase “Ebit macht frei” or “Profit will set you free” – an obvious play with the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” or “Work will set you free”, which was nailed to the door of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Later that year, he said he was “unaware” of China’s mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang Province.

Diess also warned on Monday that the German group would struggle to overtake Tesla as the world’s largest electric car maker towards the company’s 2025 target.

“I did not expect the growth of our main American competitor to be so fast,” he said.

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