Not Just Monkeys: German Automakers Also Sponsored Diesel Emissions Experiments on Humans

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Over the weekend, we reported that German automakers funded research where monkeys were exposed to diesel exhaust fumes from an emissions-cheating VW Beetle. Volkswagen Group, Daimler and BMW all condemned the study — claiming to be appalled by the logistics employed for research they were funding.

Apparently, the situation is a little darker than we first thought. In addition to gassing 10 monkeys, the group hired by automakers to prove the worth of diesel was also testing on human beings. The European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) had 25 people inhaling a gaseous byproduct of diesel combustion at a clinic used by the University of Aachen in 2016.

On Monday, German newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung expanded on EUGT’s unsavory research practices — claiming it not only exposed animals to exhaust gases, but people as well. The German government is up in arms over the revelation. “These tests on monkeys or even humans cannot be justified ethically in any way,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, on her behalf.

Social Democrat Stephan Weil, who also happens to be a VW supervisory board member, called the testing “absurd and abhorrent … Lobbying can be no excuse whatsoever for such testing.”

Unlike the exhaust testing on monkeys, specific details on the human experiment are quite a bit lighter. While subjects were exposed to the irritant gas nitrogen dioxide (which is prevalent in diesel exhaust), exactly how remains unspecified. The 25 subjects are believed to all have been young adults in good health and were exposed to various concentrations of the gas for several hours at a time at a facility run by Aachen University.

Automakers are, once again, in the position of having to explain the matter. Daimler condemned the research, saying it had no say in establishing how EUGT conducted itself. “We are appalled by the extent of the studies and their implementation,” a spokesperson said. Daimler previously mentioned it would conduct an investigation into the group’s decisions.

Volkswagen has also distanced itself from the research, saying it will look into the situation. However, as the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector was basically asked by German automakers to counter a 2012 decision by the World Health Organization to classify diesel exhaust as a carcinogen, they hold some of the blame. How much blame is yet to be decided; all three have claimed to have limited knowledge of the group’s proceedings.

That’s not good enough for the growing number of outraged politicians. Many, like Stephan Weil, are demanding automakers immediately provide details on what the goals of these types of exhaust studies were.

“At the end of the day, the purpose of such experiments is the decisive factor. If for example, safety and health in the workplace were being tested, as Aachen University has suggested, and ethical standards were adhered to, it is defensible,” Weil told a news conference on Monday. “Where experiments served the purposes of marketing and sales, however, I cannot think of an acceptable justification for such an approach.”

[Image: Ruben de Rijcke/ Wikimedia Commons ( CC BY-SA 3.0)]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • EBFlex More proof of how much EVs suck. If you have to do this, that means you are trying to substitute what people want...and that's ICE.
  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.
  • THX1136 As a couple of folks have mentioned wasn't this an issue with the DeLorean? I seem to recall that it was claimed you could do a 'minor' buff of the surface and it would be good as new. Guess I don't see why it's a big deal if it can be so easily rectified. Won't be any different than getting out and waxing the car every so often - part of ownership, eh.
  • ToolGuy This kind of thing might be interesting in a racing simulator.
  • FreedMike Hmmm, electric powered vibrations. Is this the long rumored move into products market?