Less than three years after its diesel emissions scandal
is once again in hot water over the fumes emitted from its “TDI Clean Diesel” vehicles.
According to a report by the New York Times
that broke January 25, researchers at New Mexico’s Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute allowed 10 cynomolgus macaque monkeys to breathe diluted fumes emitted from a diesel Volkswagen Beetle for four hours. The European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) commissioned the 2014 study, and Volkswagen engineers oversaw the installation of the treadmill upon which the late-model Beetle TDI would run.
The test was intended to counter a finding by the World Health Organization that classified diesel fumes as carcinogenic. Modern diesels could produce nearly harmless fumes, the EUGT sought to prove.
| 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI Front Three Quarter
The EUGT, which disbanded in 2017, received all of its funding from German automakers Volkswagen, BMW, and Daimler, according to Reuters
. It’s not clear what role Daimler and BMW played in the Lovelace testing, but both companies have distanced themselves from the scandal.
In a statement on the company website clarifying its position on the EUGT trials, Daimler said:
• “We expressly distance ourselves from the studies and the EUGT.
• “We are appalled by the extent of the studies and their implementation.
• “We condemn the experiments in the strongest terms.
• “Even though Daimler did not have influence on the study’s design, we have launched a comprehensive investigation into the matter.
• “The EUGT's approach contradicts our values and ethical principles.
• “All of the research work commissioned with the EUGT was accompanied and reviewed by a research advisory committee consisting of scientists from renowned universities and research institutes—from selection through to the presentation of results.”
And a statement from BMW appearing in Reuters says, “The BMW Group in no way influenced the design or methodology of studies carried out on behalf of the EUGT,” further insisting the company does not carry out animal testing and had no direct part in the EUGT study.
Volkswagen, however, has admitted responsibility and apologized for its role in the tests. The Volkswagen Group’s Twitter page includes several tweets acknowledging the role the company played in the EUGT/Lovelace test, including one that says, “We know that the scientific methods used y the EUGT were wrong and we apologize sincerely for this.” And VW Group CEO Matthias Müller said, “The methods practiced by EUGT were totally wrong. All this shows me yet again that we have to take ethical questions more seriously and sensitively, in our company and as an industry. There are things you just do not do.”
| 2014 Volkswagen Beetle TDI Engine
VW has also suspended Dr. Thomas Steg, the company’s head of external relations and sustainability. Steg himself suggested the suspension, and his proposal was accepted by Volkswagen’s Board of Management today. Steg was called the company’s top lobbyist
by the New York Times
Further muddying the ethics of the EUGT/Lovelace test, the vehicle supplied to the laboratory was fitted with Volkswagen’s infamous cheat device, which manipulated the results. The cheat device, which can detect when the vehicle is in a laboratory setting, allows the vehicle to emit far less nitrogen oxides in official testing than on public roads. However, the New York Times acknowledged that the cheat device doesn’t change the efficacy of the emissions system’s particulate and soot filters. And since the Beetle TDI in question likely was equipped with emissions-cheating software, the monkeys’ exposure to nitrogen oxides was likely limited.
| 2014 Volkswagen Beetle TDI Front Low
But that only means that the results derived from the Lovelace test (which were inconclusive and did not result in any official findings in the first place) would only apply to lab tests, not real-world applications. If the study had produced findings to counter the claims made by the World Health Organization, they’d have been founded on flawed principles. Scientists at Lovelace insisted they did not know the vehicle was equipped with a cheat device.
| 2014 Volkswagen Beetle TDI Rear Low
It all adds up to some damning evidence against Volkswagen Group. Since its diesel emissions scandal of 2015, the company has been shifting its development focus to zero-emissions electric vehicles and repair
, helping restore its reputation somewhat. Whether the latest revelations will affect the company significantly remains to be seen, but at least Volkswagen has been forthcoming and honest with regard to its involvement in the test. A similar approach in 2015 helped the company weather some of the diesel emissions storms; its immediate apologies in that scandal resonated with the general public.
Sources: New York Times
, Volkswagen via Twitter
| 2014 Volkswagen Beetle TDI Passengers Side In Motion