Car Industry

Volkswagen admits to testing diesel fumes on monkeys, which is messed up

The beleaguered German automaker funded research that exposed live monkeys to diesel exhaust gases in an effort to prove diesel’s environmental cleanliness.

WOLFSBURG, GERMANY - OCTOBER 21: The Volkswagen logo stands illuminated on an administrative building at the Volkswagen factory and company headquarters on October 21, 2015 in Wolfsburg, Germany. According to media reports a Volkswagen spokesman has acknowledged that the emissions cheating software the company installed in its EA 189 diesel motor in 11 million cars and light trucks worldwide might also be present in another diesel motor called the EA 228. The software the company deliberately installed manipulates diesel engine emissions results under testing conditions. Volkswagen faces investigations and fines in countries across the globe.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In what seems like a John Henry versus the steam shovel-style competition to dig diesel's grave, Volkswagen has admitted to funding (and subsequently cheating on) animal testing to prove the relative safety of diesel exhaust fumes, according to findings by the New York Times.

The tests, which were undertaken at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque in 2014, involved as many as 10 monkeys and had them sitting in airtight containers as they breathed exhaust fumes from a diesel-powered Volkswagen Beetle while they watched cartoons for entertainment.

The Lovelace tests used a 2014 Beetle TDI to test the toxicity of diesel exhaust fumes on lab monkeys.

John Biehler/Wikimedia Commons

"They like to watch cartoons," said Jake McDonald, the scientist at Lovelace who ran the experiments, as part of a deposition taken last year as part of a suit by Volkswagen diesel owners. It was unknown if McDonald was twirling his mustache evilly when he made that statement.

The tests went on for 4 hours.

"We apologize for the misconduct and the lack of judgment of individuals," said a Volkswagen representative in a statement. "We're convinced the scientific methods chosen then were wrong. It would have been better to do without such a study in the first place."

The research was commissioned by the European Scientific Study Group for the Environment, Health and Transport Sector, which officially ceased operations last year amid controversy over its work. The lobby group was funded jointly by Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW, though the latter two companies are attempting to distance themselves from the study, with Daimler going as far as launching an inquiry into the research methods employed.

"We believe the animal tests in this study were unnecessary and repulsive," said a Daimler representative in a statement. "We explicitly distance ourselves from the study."

The Volkswagen Beetle TDI used in the monkey test was equipped with compromised software that allowed it to run much cleaner in lab conditions than it would on the road.

Patrick Pleul/AFP/Getty Images

The Volkswagen Beetle used in the test was equipped with the same compromised emissions software that could detect when the car was being tested in a lab environment so it was running as cleanly as it could, which I guess proves that Volkswagen will waste no opportunity to be hoisted by its own oil-burning petard.

While there has been no mention of which cartoons the monkeys were made to watch during the test, we'd be unsurprised to find that they were ancient, snowy VHS-taped episodes of Bruno the Kid, the ill-advised Bruce Willis-voiced spy cartoon from 1996. If you're going to be cruel and unusual, why only go halfway?