Volkswagen is suspending a high-ranking executive in the wake of revelations that German automakers tested the effects of diesel fumes on humans and monkeys.
Head of Group External Relations and Sustainability Thomas Steg will not report to work until the company investigates the work of the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT), a research group set up by VW and fellow German carmakers BMW and Daimler.
Jens Hanefeld, who is responsible for International and European Policy at Volkswagen, will take over Steg's workload in the meantime.
This is the first major step Volkswagen has taken since the tests were revealed, the company said in a statement. The New York Times first reported on the tests Jan. 25.
"We are currently in the process of investigating the work of the EUGT, which was dissolved in 2017, and drawing all the necessary consequences," said Volkswagen CEO Matthias Muller on Tuesday. "Mr. Steg has declared that he will assume full responsibility. I respect his decision."
Outrage followed the revelations of the tests conducted in a laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2014. Muller called the tests "unethical and repulsive." Further reports from German media outlets said on Monday that the research group also tested the effects of diesel exhaust on 25 people at the University of Aachen in Germany.
In one of the Albuquerque tests, monkeys were placed in airtight containers and forced to breathe only diesel exhaust from a Volkswagen Beetle, as researchers played cartoons to occupy the animals, according to the New York Times report.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday said the companies must disclose the full extent of their research.
It is yet another controversy to engulf Volkswagen involving diesel engines. The world's largest automaker admitted in 2015 that millions of its cars were rigged with devices designed to defeat emissions tests. The company pleaded guilty to three felony charges and agreed to spend as much as $25 billion in the United States to resolve claims from owners and regulators and buy back roughly half a million vehicles.