Motoring: Electric vehicles

Aug 24th '14

With the increase in the number of electric and hybrid vehicles available to consumers, and the increasing competitiveness of the market, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has seen an increase in the number of complaints about the marketing of such vehicles. Many such complaints relate to the claimed efficiency of the car, the equivalent to the number of miles per gallon it can achieve, and to the emissions released by the car, or their equivalent, usually as a result of the generation of the mains electricity used to charge the car. Marketers should bear in mind that an ad for an electric vehicle is likely to be less easily understood by a consumer than an ad for a more conventional vehicle and as such they should take particular care with the presentation and explanation of information about the vehicle, particularly when it comes to ‘zero emissions’ type claims, or similar. Recently a complaint was upheld about an ad that was headed “AMPERA THE EXTENDED-RANGE ELECTRIC VEHICLE” but also stated “Compared to other electric cars the Ampera, with up to 360-mile range, top speed of 100mph and charge time of just 6 hours does it all …”. Although the headline stated “the extended-range electric vehicle” the ASA considered this could be interpreted as a claim about the range the vehicle was capable of, rather than a statement of the vehicle type. Extended-range electric vehicles or E-REV’s is a term used for a car generating electricity using a combustion engine. In light of the potential confusion between E-REV’s and Pure Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) the ad was considered problematic. This illustrates the level of clarity that is required for claims made in a field of limited consumer understanding (General Motors UK Ltd t/a Vauxhall, 21 May 2014).


The ASA received a complaint about the fuel consumption and emission figures for the Ampera , a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). The ASA considered that a PHEV required the input of mains electricity to charge its battery. It noted however that the claimed fuel consumption figures in the ad did not take into account that the car battery had been fully charged from mains electricity before the fuel consumption testing began, and as such considered that, in the absence of any text explaining this, the figures were likely to mislead the consumers to the fuel efficiency they could expect from the car. The ASA was satisfied with amendments made by the advertiser which communicated both that the fuel consumption figures quoted were not necessarily representative of what a user would achieve when driving the car and that they had been achieved through a combination of battery power and petrol fuel. The advertiser was also asked to make clear that the battery charge was derived from mains electricity to help consumer understanding in a relatively new and developing market. The ASA considered the claimed emission figures in the same ad on the same basis, namely that the advertiser did not take into account the fact the car’s battery had already been charged before testing, and that the carbon generated from producing this electricity had not therefore been included in the figure. This strand of the complaint was not upheld on the basis that consumers would likely expect claimed emissions figures to relate to a car whilst it was in use, and the figures were therefore likely to accurately reflect a consumer’s expectations about such a claim (General Motors UK Ltd t/a Vauxhall, 31 July 2013).


The ASA considered a complaint about the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV that claimed “Experience Outlander PHEV. The world’s first plug-in hybrid 4WD SUV. Capable of 148 mpg”. Further text on the website went on to state “32.5 Mile Electric Range Capable of 32.5 miles in EV mode, the average commute can be driven solely on electricity reducing the cost on you and the environment”. The complainants who understood that the fuel consumption figure quoted in the ads was unlikely to be replicated in normal driving conditions, and was based on the car being fully recharged with electricity at regular intervals, challenged whether the ads misleadingly implied that the car could travel 148 miles on one gallon of fuel alone. The ASA considered that the page did not make clear that the claimed MPG figures might not be achieved, and agreed that the ad did not make sufficiently clear that the fuel consumption rate related to the rate achieved through a combination of battery power and petrol fuel. They therefore considered the ad misleading (The Colt Car Company Ltd t/a Mitsubishi Motors UK, 13 August 2014).


Marketing for the Nissan LEAF electric vehicle on Nissan’s website claimed “zero emission” and “no emissions”. A complainant challenged whether this was misleading as they felt it implied that the Nissan LEAF would produce no emissions, whereas they understood that emissions would be produced during the generation of the electricity used to charge the vehicle. In its deliberations, the ASA considered the website text and noted that it stated “The all-electric Nissan LEAF doesn’t produce one gram of CO2 whilst driving”. The ASA felt that the meaning of “zero emission” and “no emissions” had been sufficiently clearly explained and the complaint was therefore not upheld. Had that explicit explanation been absent the ASA’s decision would likely have been different (Nissan Motor (GB) Ltd, 22 February 2012).


An ad for proposed electric vehicles from Renault claimed “… the well-to-wheel efficiency of a Renault Fluence Z.E. will help reduce CO2 emissions by at least 90% compared to a current Diesel model* …” Small print stated “… *Comparison between a Renault Fluence Z.E. (basis: French average electric mix) and a model from an identical category: Renault Megane Hatch 1.5 dCi (85HP) emitting 133g CO2 well-to wheel.” A complainant challenged the claim because electricity generation in France produced significantly lower levels of carbon than that of the U.K. The ASA noted that the ad was qualified and stated “basis: French average electric mix” but considered that the average consumer was unlikely to be aware of the difference in CO2 production between electricity generated in France and the U.K. It concluded the claim exaggerated the likely CO2 saving in the U.K and was therefore likely to mislead (Renault UK Ltd, 5 May 2010). In light of this, marketers should be aware that emissions claims of this nature should be calculated using data pertinent to the U.K and consumers’ knowledge regarding such claims should not be overestimated.


Marketers of electric vehicles should take care when making savings claims related to their vehicles fuel economy. One marketer assumed a year on year increase in the price of petrol as part of the calculation they relied on to justify a comparative savings claim. The ASA considered that the price of petrol could go down as well as up and that a predicted future increase was therefore not a suitable basis for a savings claim calculation. The ad was therefore considered misleading (Toyota (GB) PLC, 15 February 2012).


Source: Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP)


Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


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