We are all test subjects in emissions experiment
The VW emissions scandal took a new twist as allegations of animal testing emerged, writes Geraldine Herbert
Volkswagen has apologised for testing the impact of diesel fumes on monkeys and humans. Their chief executive, Matthias Mueller, said the tests were "unethical and repulsive" and promised a full investigation.
The New York Times reported that three German car makers, VW, Daimler and BMW had paid for a research group to conduct emission tests that were designed to defend the use of diesel after the World Health Organisation classified diesel fumes as carcinogenic. Air pollution is the cause of the premature deaths of more than 1,500 Irish people every year.
The tests on monkeys took place in 2014, at a lab in New Mexico and involved a 2013 VW Beetle and a Ford F-250 pick-up truck.
A separate study in a German university, conducted by the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector, had 19 men and six women inhale diesel fumes. The now-defunct research body, was funded entirely by VW, Daimler and BMW.
It is not the first time that VW has ordered an immediate inquiry and pledged sweeping changes. This latest controversy comes more than two years after they admitted to installing software on 11 million diesel cars in order to artificially lower nitrogen oxide levels during testing.
These tests were funded by the motor industry and were therefore neither independent nor ethical. We now know the VW Beetle used was fitted with a defeat device to produce less pollution than the car would on the road.
Yet, amid all these scandals, the VW brand appears unscathed. If you can quantify damage to the brand by a decline in sales, the group has suffered nothing. Instead, it was the best-selling global brand in 2017 and the best-selling car maker in Ireland, with a market share of 10.53pc.
And what of diesel sales? The latest new car sales figures for January show a 17pc decrease in diesel but used diesel imports were up 17pc on last year. In total, 21,170 new diesel cars were sold this year and more than 7,000 used diesel cars imported. The big beneficiary of the decline in diesel new cars sales should be electric cars and electric-hybrids - but while 2017 showed strong sales growth, the combined market share for alternative fuels is less than 4pc.
The failure to ensure vehicles did not breach pollution laws has cost lives - and it is not simply a failure on the part of individual companies.
A far greater scandal is that we have all become test subjects. For decades the cars on our roads have been subjected to the outdated New European Driving Cycle test.
Over time, as the gulf between what can be achieved in reality and the results from ideal laboratory conditions widened, it was clear car makers could ensure that test vehicles were optimised in ways their showroom counterparts could never achieve on the road.
A new test, the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, is now in place but it will shed no light on cars currently on our roads.
In the meantime, we can be certain we are being exposed to higher levels of nitrogen oxide than advised by the car makers and nobody it seems is doing anything to effectively challenge this.