Volkswagen has suspended Thomas Steg, chief lobbyist, over emissions tests partially funded by the car maker, which are said to have involved monkeys breathing in air with diesel fumes.
"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," Matthias Mueller said in a statement released overnight.
The EUGT, or European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector, was a research body founded and funded by Volkswagen, the BMW Group, and Daimler, the parent of the Mercedes-Benz and Smart brands.
Above: Thomas Steg.
According to a report in The New York Times last week, the EUGT commissioned the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to conduct experiments to prove the cleanliness of modern diesel engines.
The institute's experiment in 2014 allegedly included 10 cynomolgus macaque monkeys locked in airtight containers for four hours as cartoons played, and diesel exhaust from a Volkswagen Beetle were pumped in.
Unbeknownst to the researchers, the Beetle used in the experiment was fitted with Dieselgate code, which allowed the car to detect a laboratory emissions testing situation and reduce its output of harmful oxides of nitrogen (NOx).
The experiments reportedly didn't produce any clear findings, and the results were never used in a published scientific paper.
Volkswagen says "the investigations of these matters are being pursued intensively". At this stage it's not clear when or how much employees at each automaker knew about the experiment prior to The New York Times report.
Prior to joining Volkswagen in 2012, Steg was deputy spokesperson for the German government led by Gerhard Schroeder.