It seems diesel manufacturers are at it again. Although this time, instead of getting busted for using cheat devices, Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler sponsored a group of scientists to conduct NOx emissions test on live subjects. Specifically, the European Research Association for Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) studied effects of nitrous oxides on monkeys and humans.
If you think that sounds bad, you’re not wrong. These manufacturers were already facing a negative PR tsunami when it came to light they were testing on monkeys. However, German media outlets reported this past weekend that scientists also tested the effects of NOx emissions on “ healthy young persons”. According to those same outlets, scientists subjected people to several hours of exposure to nitrous oxides to study whether it had a negative effect. The intention here was not, as some reports may lead you to believe, to test the effects of tailpipe emissions of diesel systems. Rather, humans were exposed to dry nitrous oxide.
When the group was founded in 2007, the point was to prove the effectiveness of clean diesel systems. It was something along the lines of, “Hey everyone, look how clean our exhaust can be! No more sooty diesel!” By the time the scientists disbanded ten years later, they’d concluded the NOx exposure had no detrimental effect on the human subjects. However, that does contradict the EPA’s interpretation of nitrous oxides. NOx emissions, they state, can lead to respiratory issues and exacerbate asthma.
Here’s the rub with the scientists’ study, as well. Allegedly, they didn’t know that the systems they used to were fitted with defeat devices. Yep, even back then, VW et al were fitting their cars with defeat devices to get around emissions testing. So, not only were the tests ethically suspect, but they didn’t realistically reflect real-world conditions either.
Here Comes the Backlash
The German government is calling on the manufacturers caught in this latest scandal to disclose the full extent of the research they funded. As you’d expect, this latest revelation just puts more pressure on diesel cars and the companies that make them. Volkswagen immediately condemned the practice:
“We apologize for the misconduct and the lack of judgment of individuals…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.”
Daimler and BMW also took steps to denounce the study. In fact, Daimler stated precisely that in their statement: “We explicitly distance ourselves from this study.” Naturally.
These revelations come right on the heels of VW’s Dieselgate scandal. Volkswagen had agreed to pay billions upon billions of dollars to settle with consumers and the U.S. government. The tests are, of course, reprehensible, but what does this mean for the future of the diesel engine?
Is the future of diesel looking bleak?
While we recently tested diesels in our own backyard and concluded modern examples are cleaner on particulate emissions, that may not be enough to save diesel in the long run.
In fact, the New York Times reported the scandal is “likely to intensify a backlash against diesel in Europe”. Until recently, diesels were incredibly popular over there. They didn’t catch on quite as much in the U.S., and now it seems they may never catch on now. First Dieselgate, and now human NOx testing…it seems the clock for diesel cars is ticking.