The UK’s advertising watchdog has banned ads from two different carmakers that refer to their electric vehicles as “zero emissions”, as it continues to crack down on claims made about battery-powered models.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) today said it had upheld rulings against BMW and MG Motor UK over ads that appeared on Google last year.
It said both ads had misled consumers by suggesting that electric vehicles produce no emissions during the manufacturing process, or when charged with non-renewable electricity.
BMW is one of two car brands that have been criticized by the Advertising Standards Authority for their use of the term “zero emissions” when promoting their electric vehicles online.
Google’s paid ad for BMW seen on August 16, 2023 included the following message: “Zero-emission cars: download your brochure today.” Visit the official BMW online website. Find the perfect BMW electric car. Book a test drive. Explore a range of BMW electric cars…’.
On the same day, MG Motor UK also ran a paid ad on Google saying: “Find a dealership – book a test drive.” Save £1,000 on your next long-range MG HS plug-in hybrid, MG ZS or MG5 EV Trophy, refreshed with a modern design, longer range and even more technology. Zero Emissions’.
The ASA questioned whether the “zero emissions” claim misleadingly represented the environmental impact of the vehicles.
This was especially the case for the MG model, which also announced plug-in hybrid models with an additional gasoline engine.
The ASA ruling said: ‘The basis for (MG Motor UK’s) claim was not explained in the advertisement.
“A ‘zero emissions’ claim for a fully electric vehicle, which did not make it explicitly clear that it related to emissions produced when the vehicle was in motion, was likely to be misleading.
«Hybrid vehicles emitted greenhouse gases through the exhaust pipe when using gasoline or diesel. Any associated “zero emissions” claim needed to clarify that it referred to emissions while the vehicle was driven with an electric motor.
“Similar statements about vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel engines would always be misleading.”
MG has used the ‘zero emissions’ reference in an advert for electric cars and the plug-in hybrid HS SUV (pictured), despite the latter having a petrol engine.
The ASA said both BMW and MG Motor UK had misled consumers by suggesting in their advertisements that electric vehicles produce no emissions during the manufacturing process, or when charged with non-renewable electricity. In the photo: MG5 EV
The ASA ruling added: ‘The advert made the ‘Zero Emissions’ claim without the material information necessary to enable consumers to understand what it was based on. It did not differentiate between vehicle types or clarify that the claim was limited to emissions when driving an electric vehicle.
“We therefore concluded that the advertisement was likely to be misleading.”
BMW responded to the ASA saying it had included the reference in its advertisements in a bid to capture the number of people searching for electric vehicles online using the term “zero emissions”.
Regarding BMW’s announcement, the ASA said consumers would misinterpret that such cars would produce zero emissions in all circumstances.
«We understood that when driving electric vehicles no emissions were produced, unlike a car with a gasoline or diesel engine, where the emissions came from the exhaust pipe.
‘However, in other circumstances, such as manufacturing or charging an electric vehicle using electricity from the national grid, emissions were generated.
‘For that reason, an advertisement that included the ‘zero emissions’ claim, which did not make it explicitly clear that it was related to the vehicle’s reaction while driving, was likely to be misleading.
“Without material information making it clear to consumers what the claim was based on and a clarification that it was restricted to emissions from driving only, we concluded that ‘zero-emission cars’ were likely to be misleading.”
Both BMW and MG have been instructed that the adverts must not appear again in their current form and any reference to “zero emissions” in the future makes it clear that the claim relates to an electric vehicle only when it is in motion.
BMW responded to the ASA saying it had included the reference in its advertisements in a bid to capture the number of people searching for electric vehicles online using the term “zero emissions”. In the photo: BMW i4
The ASA says carmakers should make clear that any reference to zero emissions only refers to when driving an electric vehicle. In the photo: BMW iX3
The ASA ruling was published on Wednesday alongside another against Transport for London (TfL) radio adverts promoting the expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).
The watchdog said TfL’s claims that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) had been reduced by almost half as a result of the scheme were not based on air quality measurements taken before and after its implementation, such as listeners could wait.
Instead, TfL based its claim on calculating the difference between current air quality measurements and a “non-ULEZ scenario”, but without qualifying this for listeners and likely misleading them, the ASA found.
The ASA also upheld complaints about claims in a second TfL advert that the majority of air pollution-related deaths “actually” occurred on the outskirts of London, when in fact this was based on modeled estimates.
Colin Walker, of green think tank The Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, described the ASA ruling as “a very strange decision”.
He said that It is “accepted practice” that cars of all fuel types are evaluated by the CO2 they emit from their exhaust pipes and the Zero-emission vehicle mandate as an example of how the term is already used to describe electric vehicles.
“It seems perverse that automakers, in an effort to meet the targets set for them under this mandate for the number of zero-emission vehicles they have to sell, are being told they cannot market those vehicles.” like zero emissions,’ Mr Walker told This is Money.
«The reality is that an electric vehicle, from the time it is built to the time it is driven and scrapped, produces three times less CO2 than a gasoline vehicle. And that figure will increase as more renewables continue to connect to the UK grid.
“Compared to this decision, one has to wonder why the ASA is happy for companies like Toyota to brand their hybrid vehicles as ‘self-charging’, as if the electricity from their batteries magically comes out of nowhere, rather than burning gasoline.” in their engines. To be clear, it is not.
ASA cracks down on EV terminology in ads
In 2022, the ASA published its report on consumers’ understanding of commonly used environmental terms such as “carbon neutral”, “net zero emissions” and “electric” and “hybrid” vehicles.
He said advertisers should be transparent about claims made around terms including “zero emissions” when describing green products, including electric vehicles.
An ASA spokesperson told This is Money: ‘We have been regulating environmental claims in advertising for years and have made it clear that any factual claims must be backed by solid evidence.
‘When it comes to absolute claims, advertisers must consider the entire life cycle of a product and have solid evidence to back up the claims.
‘This is a long-established position, taking into account independent consumer research, which shows that claims in electric vehicle advertisements are not always clearly understood.
‘In this case, both ads said their vehicles had ‘zero emissions’ without specifying what that actually meant.
‘We recognized that electric cars do not emit emissions during use. However, given the emissions emitted during manufacturing and potential emissions depending on the charging source, we ruled that objectively describing them as “zero emissions” was misleading in suggesting that the product had not caused any emissions.”
The rulings against BMW and MG come just weeks after the ASA criticized both Kia and Mercedes for advertisements promoting the “official” maximum range figures for new electric cars, and not the actual range that drivers can reasonably expect. they could hope to achieve.
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