Volkswagen has suspended its public relations chief – at his own request – as it investigates experiments that saw monkeys exposed to diesel exhaust fumes.
The company said its head of external relations and sustainability, Dr Thomas Steg, had stepped away from his duties and taken “full responsibility”.
VW – still reeling from the fallout of the 2015 dieselgate scandal when it admitted installing software in 11 million diesel cars to cheat emissions tests – is one of three carmakers at the centre of the latest controversy.
Image: Thomas Steg was a spokesperson for the German government before joining VW
It emerged last week that an agency known as EUGT, jointly funded by VW, Daimler and BMW, had carried out the animal testing in the United States in 2014.
According to the New York Times, 10 monkeys were locked into airtight chambers and made to breathe in diesel exhaust from a VW Beetle while the animals were watching TV cartoons. None are understood to have died, though their current fate is not known.
It also emerged that a study in Germany measured the effects of inhaling nitrogen dioxide on 25 human volunteers.
The German tabloid Bild said Dr Steg had told a reporter he knew about the monkey tests in advance but had stopped an alleged plan by researchers to include human testing.
EUGT is believed to have been conducting such experiments as part of efforts to persuade critics of diesel that it was not to blame for a surge in deaths – mainly from respiratory conditions.
In its statement on Tuesday, VW said: “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.”
VW chief executive Matthias Muller 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.”
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Mr Muller – who took the top job at VW following the dieselgate scandal – had earlier joined counterparts in condemning the testing.
He was quoted as describing the practice as “wrong, unethical and repulsive”.