Banned Again: Toyota Prius TV Ad Gets Axed For Exaggerating CO2 benefits!

Believe it or not but the British Adverting Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a second Toyota hybrid-car related ad in a month! This time it’s for a Prius TV ad that misleadingly claims it emits less CO2 than an equivalent diesel engine family car. About a month ago, ASA pulled the plug off a Lexus RX 400h magazine advert for falsely implicating that it caused little or no harm to the environment and had low CO2 emissions in comparison with all cars.

The Prius TV commercial, created by Saatchi & Saatchi Japan, claimed “what if all cars were like the Prius, with its hybrid synergy drive technology, it emits up to one tonne less CO2 per year” On-screen text stated “1 tonne of CO2 less than an equivalent family vehicle with a diesel engine. Average calculated on 20,000km a year. Toyota Prius: CO2 emissions: 104g/km”.

The problem was that, according to ASA’s investigations, the chart used by Toyota to make the calculations held data on petrol and diesel cars as opposed to merely diesel. Moreover, while the average annual distance driven by private cars in the US was 20,000km, the average for the UK was 13,440km. -Click “Read More…” for ASA’s press release

Ad: A TV ad, for the Toyota Prius, claimed “what if all cars were like the Prius, with its hybrid synergy drive technology, it emits up to one tonne less CO2 per year” On-screen text stated “1 tonne of CO2 less than an equivalent family vehicle with a diesel engine. Average calculated on 20,000km a year. Toyota Prius: CO2 emissions: 104g/km”.

Issue: The complainant challenged whether the claim “it emits up to one tonne less CO2 per year” misleadingly exaggerated the environmental benefits of the car.

Response: Toyota sent a chart that took an average of the emissions of new cars registered in 2005 and compared that with the emissions of the Prius. The chart showed that, on average, new cars registered in 2005 emitted 172g of CO2 / km, while the Prius emitted 104g / km. They said they had taken the difference of 68g/km and multiplied it by 20,000km, which they considered a reasonable average annual distance travelled by a car. That gave an emissions saving of 1.36 tonnes. The chart also gave emissions figures for individual cars with engines of between 1.2 and 2.2 litres. They said they had chosen 1.8 litres as a threshold of comparison because although the Prius had a 1.5 litre engine, they believed its output was comparable to a 2.0 litre engine. They sent a document that compared the output of the current Prius with the first generation Prius hybrid and the Toyota Allion, which had a 2.0 litre engine. They argued the chart showed that the Toyota Prius emitted one tonne less of CO2 than a range of cars with engines either side of their threshold of comparison and pointed out they had qualified the claim by stating “up to” 1 tonne less to make clear that the emissions saved would not always be as much as 1 tonne.

The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) said they had checked Toyota’s evidence with an independent consultant, who had advised it was suitable to show that the Toyota Prius emitted significantly less CO2 than other cars.

Assessment: Upheld

The ASA noted on-screen text stated that the claim compared the Prius with “an equivalent family vehicle with a diesel engine” and that it made clear calculations were based on an annual driving distance of 20,000km a year. However, we noted that the chart sent by Toyota held data on petrol and diesel cars and that, while the average annual distance driven by private cars in the US was 20,000km, the average for the UK was 13,440km.

We noted that the chart drew on UK government data and compared the Prius against a range of cars from different manufacturers, but the document that measured the output of the car was produced inhouse and only compared the Prius against the previous model and another Toyota car.

We did not consider that document suitable to establish that the output of the Prius was comparable to all 2.0 litre cars registered in 2005. We noted that none of the cars with 1.5 litre engines featured in the chart emitted 1 tonne more CO2 than the Prius and that less than half of those new cars that had engines of less than 1.8 litres emitted 1 tonne more CO2 than the Prius.

We noted that Toyota had qualified the claim by stating “up to one ton less CO2 per year” and that the Prius emitted significantly less CO2 than some other cars with greater engine capacity, but we did not consider their evidence demonstrated that it emitted 1 tonne less than equivalent vehicles with diesel engines or that it took into account the average annual distance driven by private cars in the UK.

The ad breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1 (Misleading advertising), 5.2.1 (Evidence), 5.2.2 (Implications), 5.2.6 (Environmental claims) and 5.4.6 (Comparative advertising).

Action: The ad should not be broadcast again in the same form.

Technorati: , Toyota+Prius, Lexus, Carscoop, blogs, automotive, vehicles

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