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The Aero Emission electic car

 Ref, LTT 89 electric cars ASA letter 01

In May of last year Transport-Watch lodged a complaint against an advert placed by Renault which claimed that the official fuel consumption for the Renault Zoe range of electric cars was “not available” and that the official CO2 emissions were zero, but (strangely) that the latter may vary according to driving conditions.

Both claims seem ludicrous since the electricity consumption is known along with the carbon emission per kW hour of power supplied. Hence, we were astonished when our complaint was summarily rejected within about a week.  We then pointed out that a similar advert by BMW, placed in 2010, had suffered a similar complaint and that ASA had told BMW not to repeat the zero emission claim. 

It took ASA a year to respond, but when it did it again rejected our complaint, concluding with the words: “We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Qualification), 11.1, 11.4 and 11.7 (Environmental claims), but did not find it in breach”.  Well, here is what the guidance says:-

3.1: Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.

3.3: Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material.

3.9: Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications.

11.1: The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information.

11.4 Marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. If a general claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product might be justifiable. Marketers must ensure claims that are based on only part of the advertised product’s life cycle do not mislead consumers about the product’s total environmental impact.

11.7: Marketing communications must not mislead consumers about the environmental benefit etc.

We were bemused.  It could not be more obvious that a claim of zero emissions breaks every one of those guidelines.  Hence we appealed.  In that appeal we showed that the energy burnt in power stations and used to power the ZOE car provided a fuel consumption equivalent to only 56 miles per gallon and that the carbon emission amounted to 79 gms of CO2 per km, if the energy used in battery manufacture is ignored, and to 118 gms if the latter is taken into account.  We compared that with advertised data for the Peugeot 108.  After increasing the fuel consumption and carbon emission by 10%, to allow for refinery and distribution losses, that vehicle returns 60mpg and emits 109gms of CO2 per km.

At that point that it seemed obvious to us that no one could deny us the appeal.  How wrong we were.  Instead the independent adjudicator, in the form of Sir Hayden Phillips GCB DL, wrote that ASA had acted entirely properly and within the legal framework.  Among other he provides;

 “I see from your review request that you attached an email response from the VCA which says: “Following the 2013 amendment to the regulation, it became necessary to display the CO2 and fuel consumption figures for all vehicles – including electric vehicles, albeit that the results will be ‘0’ for CO2 emissions and ‘N/A’ (not applicable) for fuel consumption”. The advertisement you complain of follows this guidance precisely and I cannot see how you can reasonably expect the ASA not to follow the guidance of the responsible authority in this area. For them not to have done so could well have been a substantial flaw; but to do so was both defensible and reasonable and therefore not flawed”.

The fact that the VCA Guidelines are (a) not binding (its introduction says that “It is not offered as an authoritative legal interpretation of the meaning of the Regulations”) and (b) are in contradiction to the engineering reality, ASA’s own guidance and to similar guidance in the Green Claims Code published by DEFRA and BIS, the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code) and the International Standard, ISO 14021:5.7h did not carry any weight.  Instead Sir Hayden stood firmly behind the non-binding VCA guidance, a stance which we find incredible.

We conclude that ASA and the adjudicator are not fit for purpose. At any rate it is clear that this extraordinarily misleading advert will continue until someone in high places forces the VCA to bring its guidelines into line with reality, or the ASA decided that its own guidance trumps the ludicrous guidance published by the VCA.

 Alternatively, could it be that (a) the ASA lacks scientists or (b) the adjudicator should be one in such cases or (c) we are in the grip of corruption driven by politics and by vested interests, such as car manufacturers paid to promote electric cars on the contested premise that they will reduce carbon emissions?

Note - the final ajudication is here

The respose to our appeal is here

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