Volkswagen Chooses Patsy in Diesel Exhaust Experiment Controversy

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Volkswagen AG suspended chief lobbyist Thomas Steg on Tuesday as its “first consequences as a result of animal tests.” If you’ll recall, German automakers were faulted with funding experiments on monkeys (and also people) that haven’t gone over well in the media. Both Daimler and VW say they will conduct investigations to get to the bottom of how something like this could have happened.

At its meeting today, Volkswagen Group’s Board of Management accepted a proposal made by Steg, who heads external relations and sustainability, that he be suspended until a full investigation is completed.

“We are currently in the process of investigating the work of the EUGT, which was dissolved in 2017, and drawing all the necessary consequences. Mr. Steg has declared that he will assume full responsibility. I respect his decision,” said Volkswagen CEO Matthias Müller in a statement.

While it looks like Steg is falling on his sword to help the company save face, there are some indications that he could have been directly involved with the experiments. Automotive News has reported on documents that indicate Steg was informed in May of 2013 about a planned experiment arranged by an organization funded by VW Group, BMW Group, and Daimler called the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT).

The intended goal of the research was to counter claims from the World Health Organization that diesel exhaust can cause cancer.

It’s worth noting that the general consensus is that most forms of air pollutants cause health issues. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (which is part of the World Health Organization) classifies diesel fumes as carcinogenic. But the National Toxicology Program, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health all state that diesel exhaust is a possible or likely carcinogen.

Steig has gone on record saying that the tests involving primates adhered to international scientific standards, and even included an ethics commission in the United States. That seems to be true, and it’s not as if this is the first time any country has conducted unpleasant scientific research on animals. However, he also says he still deeply regrets his involvement in the event.

“From today’s perspective, the experiment should not have been carried out, even under different conditions,” Steg told German newspaper Bild, adding he would have prevented the research in hindsight. “I regret that very much. This has nothing to do with scientific learning.”

Volkswagen claims its investigation into the testing will be pursued intensively. But its primary focus appears to be on the animal experimentation and not the testing done on humans — an issue which all the automakers seem less interested in discussing right now. During his suspension, Steig’s role will be assumed on an acting basis by Jens Hanefeld, who is currently responsible for international and European policy.

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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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Jan 30, 2018

    "Steig has gone on record saying that the tests involving primates adhered to international scientific standards, and even included an ethics commission in the United States." Yet he still bit the blue pill, and that's where he went wrong. Steig should have stayed at his post. We live in a world where people think food comes from the grocery store shelf. I work for a medical company that tests its product on pigs, and it has saved thousands of lives. Let's ask our happy customers and their families whether we should have done that.

    • See 2 previous
    • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Jan 31, 2018

      @jkross22 Actually, my company produces a device, not a drug, but it still requires a prescription. As for the exhaust testing, why would VW waste money and time on a test whose outcome they already knew? The point of testing is to see if there is a difference between A and B. An outcome that is 'less bad' for your health would be nice to see. So, in fact, they didn't know what the effects would be.

  • Voyager Voyager on Feb 01, 2018

    How's Oliver Schmidt doing in jail? Feeling abandoned by VW, whilst his former bosses are enjoying a lavish pension?

  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.