What 10 Monkeys, 3 Top German Automakers and a Lab in Albuquerque have in Common

"My most urgent task is to win back trust for the Volkswagen Group - by leaving no stone unturned." ~ Matthias Mueller

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In September of 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that many VW diesel engine cars being sold in America had a device that could detect when they were being tested for emissions. The device would change the performance of the vehicle in order to improve on the test results.

The device was referred to as a “defeat device” and the scandal was dubbed as the “diesel dupe.”

The EPA issued a notice of violation to Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, and Volkswagen Group of America (collectively VW) for failure to comply with Clean Air Act regulations.

According to the EPA, 482,000 cars in the US, including the VW-manufactured Audi A3, and the VW models Jetta, Beetle, Golf and, Passat were affected. VW went on to admit that about 11 million cars worldwide, including eight million in Europe, were fitted with the dubious device.

The “diesel dupe” scandal resulted in a $14.7 billion settlement. The settlement went towards compensating car owners and addressing environmental harm. VW had to recall 8.5 million cars in Europe, including 2.4 million in Germany and 1.2 million in the UK, and 500,000 in the US as a result of the scandal.

In response to this scandal, VW America boss Michael Horn said, “We’ve totally screwed up.” Martin Winterkorn, chief executive at the time, said his company had “broken the trust of our customers and the public.”

Winterkorn lost his job as a result of the scandal and was replaced by Matthias Mueller, the former boss of Porsche. When Mueller took up his new job he said, “My most urgent task is to win back trust for the Volkswagen Group – by leaving no stone unturned.” 

Whatever trust the Volkswagen Group may have rebuilt since this scandal is fast being eroded as a result of an article in last Thursdays’ New York Times and an episode of a Netflix documentary called Dirty Money which aired the next day. Both show how far Volkswagen went to deceive the world about their “low” emission diesel engines.

Volkswagen along with Daimler and BMW are said to have funded a study that involved experiments that used monkeys to test the health effects of diesel fumes. The New York Times reports that “the research was intended to show that modern diesel technology had solved the problem of excess emissions linked to a range of lung ailments and blamed for tens of thousands of premature deaths.”

The study was commissioned by the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (E.U.G.T). Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque carried out the experiments.

There were ten monkeys in total and they were divided into two groups. One group of monkeys was exposed to exhaust fumes of a late-model diesel Volkswagen (Beetle) and the other group was exposed to exhaust fumes of an older Ford diesel pickup. Their exposure was set to four hours after which, samples of the monkeys’ lung tissue were taken to check for inflammation.

Barring the obvious animal abuse issue, there was another glaring issue with this experiment. Volkswagen’s Beetle was equipped with a “defeat device” so any results would have been tainted.

Volkswagen has issued a statement in response that said, “The scientific methods used to conduct the study were wrong. Animal testing is completely inconsistent with our corporate standards. We apologize for the inappropriate behavior that occurred and for the poor judgment of individuals who were involved.”

Daimler distanced itself from the study and the E.U.G.T by saying, “We will clarify how the L.R.R.I. study came about and have launched an investigation. Daimler does neither tolerate nor support unethical treatment of animals. The animal experiments in the study are superfluous and repulsive.”

BMW’s responded by saying that it “does not carry out any animal experiments. The BMW Group did not participate in the mentioned study and distances itself from this study.”

Jake McDonald, the Lovelace scientist who oversaw the experiments, said he did not know that the Volkswagen Beetle has a “defeat device.”

Volkswagen is said to have taken a lead role in the study.