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German carmakers take another hit with diesel testing on humans

[MUNICH] Diesel's reputation took another blow amid revelations that Germany's auto industry sponsored tests that exposed humans as well as monkeys to the fuel's exhaust fumes, which can cause respiratory illness and cancer.

The study, supported by a little-known group founded by Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG and BMW AG in 2007, had 25 people breathe in diesel exhaust at a clinic used by the University of Aachen, Stuttgarter Zeitung reported Monday. The story, citing annual reports from the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector, or EUGT, which closed last year, followed a New York Times report earlier that the organisation also conducted tests using monkeys.

Germany's auto industry, which is still reeling from Volkswagen's diesel-cheating scandal where the company rigged emissions tests, distanced itself from the organisation.

"We are appalled by the extent of the studies and their implementation," Daimler said Monday in an emailed statement, adding it didn't have any influence over the study and promised an investigation. "We condemn the experiments in the strongest terms."

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The revelations are another bombshell undermining diesel's image. The technology remains a key profit driver for German automakers, even as demand gradually slips in Europe, the main market for the diesel models. The reports also weaken the carmakers' position in its efforts to counter criticism of the technology as cities mull bans and German politicians weigh more stringent upgrades to lower pollution levels.

In an additional twist, the VW Beetle model used in the test with animals was among the vehicles rigged to cheat on emissions tests, the New York Times reported. Volkswagen apologised for the misconduct and lack of judgment of some individuals, calling the trials a mistake. VW on Monday again distanced itself from the activities of the group.

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