Volkswagen’s head of group external relations and sustainability Dr Thomas Steg has been suspended following allegations that monkeys were used in an emissions testing regime carried out on behalf of the brand.
Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler are all alleged to have been implicated in the testing activity, carried out by now defunct European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) at a lab in Albuquerque, USA, in 2014.
In tests described this week by the chief executive of Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft, Matthias Müller, as “unethical and repulsive”, Monkeys were placed into air-tight containers with a running vehicles for prolonged periods to analyse the effects on their respiratory system.
It is also alleged that humans were used as part EUGT’s test regime, which was funded by the German manufacturing trio.
On Monday the chairman of VW's supervisory board, Hans Dieter Poetsch, said that he would “do everything possible to ensure that this matter is investigated in detail.”
Reuters reported that Thomas Steg, Volkswagen’s chief lobbyist told German daily newspaper Bild “we want to absolutely rule out testing on animals for the future so that this doesn’t happen again".
However, in a statement issued by Volkswagen yesterday, it emerged that the Wolfsburg-based brand had accepted Steg’s proposal that he be suspended in connection with the saga.
The statement said: “Volkswagen has drawn the first consequences in connection with the animal tests financed by the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT e.V., Europäische Forschungsvereinigung für Umwelt und Gesundheit im Transportsektor).
“At its meeting today, the Board of Management accepted the proposal made by Dr Thomas Steg, head of group external relations and sustainability, that he be suspended.”
“Thomas Steg is a general representative of the Volkswagen Group and will remain suspended from his duties until these matters have been fully investigated.
Matthias Müller added: “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.”
Volkswagen said that its investigations into the emissions testing regime were “being pursued intensively”.
The duties of Mr Steg will be assumed on an acting basis by Jens Hanefeld, who assumes responsibility for International and European Policy.
Speaking earlier this week a Daimler spokesman told the AFP news agency that it "condemns the experiments in the strongest terms", adding in a statement: "Even though Daimler did not have influence on the study’s design, we have launched a comprehensive investigation into the matter.”
A statement issued by BMW said that it "did not participate in the mentioned studies".
According to the New York Times report, details of the vehicle emissions experiments were disclosed in a lawsuit brought against Volkswagen in the United States, offering a rare window into the world of industry-backed academic research.