Auto emissions ‘omission’ porky in car ad rumbled

Thousands of consumers have complained to the US Federal Trade Commission about a misleading auto advertisement claiming that cars are virtually emission-free.

Following a campaign run by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) stating that cars were less polluting today than a few decades ago, an overwhelming 22,757 people complained that statements made by the organisation were false.

The advert stated that cars were “99% cleaner than you think”, adding that “autos manufactured today are virtually emission-free” and that this was “a dramatic improvement over models from just 30 years ago”.

However, as the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) pointed out, an average car today will release far more environmentally damaging emissions into the atmosphere than 20 years ago.

Moreover, it states that figures show there are currently only four nations in the world that emit more heat-trapping carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels than are released by cars and transport alone in the US.

But the advert implies that new cars do not produce harmful carbon or greenhouse gas emissions, when in fact around 1,300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution is emitted by cars in the US each year.

“With this deceptive ad campaign, automakers are now attempting to hide the harmful nature of their products much like cigarette makers did,” research director of the UCS clean vehicles programme, David Friedman said. “New vehicles produce too many harmful emissions for automakers to misrepresent the facts. Instead, they need to put technologies to work to clean up their vehicles and protect our families and kids.”

Data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) demonstrates that the dirtiest vehicles made today actually release around 40 times more smog-forming emissions than a Ford Escape Hybrid, and even under tighter government regulations, cars will still emit about 350,000 tonnes of toxic pollutants even if all vehicles met tougher Tier 2 standards.

To counter the auto lobby’s untrue claims, UCS has launched its own advertising campaign that will run in the same media outlets as the original advert correcting the misrepresentations by the AAM.

Controversially, the counter ad shows a child holding a cigarette. However, the AAM version deceptively implies that their products are clean and healthy for children, and the UCS says its own ad points out that the Auto Alliance is trying to hide the harmful contents of their products much like cigarette makers have done in the past.

“The Auto Alliance must think that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will start to believe it,” Mr Friedman warned. “Their strategy is an irresponsible attempt to shift the focus of the pollution debate completely away from cars and trucks.”

The AAM is the lead group suing to stop landmark state regulations on global warming emissions from vehicles currently underway in California (see related story).

By Jane Kettle

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