The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) has upheld Toyota’s claim that their recent adverts for hybrid cars being “self-charging,” which was claimed to be misleading the public. A rhetoric the IEVOA agrees with.

The issues fell into 6 categories:

  1. The cars are not self-charging as they are propelled by fossil fuels
  2. “Self charging” suggests that the car is running as an EV all of the time, rather than the majority of the time burning fossil fuel
  3. Ads are misleading to non-technical consumers because they do not explain that the car runs on fossil fuels, and regenerates power through braking thereafter
  4. Claims of efficiency against PHEV or BEV cars
  5. Claims of superiority against cars that required to be plugged in
  6. Suggestions that a hybrid could save money being misleading

Disappointingly, on all counts, the ASAI saw no issue in what Toyota was doing in their greenwashing campaign. Here, we will refute some of the ASAI comments.

On issues 1 & 3

Technical terminology was used by Toyota and their advertising agency, Javelin here. Their rebuttal to the initial claim was that the adverts do not specifically say the car was self-fuelling (key term here), but that the electric part of the vehicle was charged without external sources (e.g. a plug).

IEVOA would refute this whole-heartedly because the external source required to charge the battery is an internal combustion engine. Moreover, the claim is that this is a case of misleading terminology being used to confuse prospective buyers. The issue raised in the complaint is that the use of “self-charging” as primary reason to buy the car sells it as something that it simply is not.

On issue 2

The ASAI upheld Toyota’s standards, suggesting that a car which mostly runs on environmentally disastrous fossil fuels can advertise to the public as something that appears as an EV.

IEVOA refutes this decision as it suggests that simply having a battery in a car to run at any point allows the manufacturer to claim they are an EV. A better definition for an EV should be created. We would propose something that suggests an electric vehicle, even when sharing power delivery with an ICE mechanism, can only be called an EV when 50% or more of the propulsion of the vehicle occurs under battery electric power only.

On issue 4

Once again, technical details stopped ASAI from making any impactful decision here. Instead, they are allowing Toyota to claim that their cars are more efficient than other vehicles using terminology like “how do you make a difference?”

IEVOA notes that these statements and claims of efficiency gains in a hybrid are not specifically aimed at other ICE vehicles, but are too broad. These claims are suggesting that there are environmental gains to be had by “switching to a hybrid.” But there’s no claim to suggest that this is from ICE vehicles, which makes up the vast majority of Toyota’s fleet. Again, this a vague and technical, causing confusion to a consumer who may be swayed into buying a hybrid vehicle thinking they’re more effective at tackling the climate crisis than any other vehicle.

On issue 5

Adverts mention phrases like “and yet you never have to plug it in,” though ASAI deemed it fit for purpose. Suggesting that there was nothing here to claim that there was any superiority over plugged-in vehicles is once again bogged down in technicalities, rather than the specifics of advertising standards to avoid misleading the consumer.

Even worse, the ASAI noted, “They considered that the claim in the advertising was addressing a lack of consumer knowledge and did not consider that the statement was in breach of the Code.” So they are, in fact, blaming an ill-informed consumer for not understanding the technical language being used. Instead of holding Toyota more accountable to informing the consumer in better terms what they are actually offering.

On issue 6

In this instance, ASAI decided that Toyota’s use of customer testimonials were somewhat misleading because they did not consider the range of factors involved in saving money by switching to a hybrid. As a result, ASAI have asked for ads containing these testimonials to be removed.

As noted, IEVOA, acting on behalf of thousands of EV owners in Ireland, would like to express disappointment in the confusing rhetoric being allowed onto Irish airwaves by ASAI’s lack of action here.

It is the opinion of IEVOA that Toyota and it’s advertising agency deliberately sought to use misleading language in its adverts for hybrid cars (which primarily run on ICE, powered by fossil fuels), using vague and technically confusing language to suggest that their vehicles are cheaper to run, self-charging and more efficient than plug-in electric vehicles.

IEVOA is also disappointed in the confusing display of inaction from ASAI here. It seems clear to us that Toyota and its advertising agency have no intention of being clear or obvious with their prospective consumers. Instead, using confusing language and deliberately obfuscating facts or figures. It seems as though this falls specifically into the remit of ASAI here, who should take a more clear tone with these cases where new technologies are being touted to confuse the market away from making better, informed decisions.

Ultimately, a hybrid car is not “self-charging,” doesn’t effectively run on an electric motor & battery and doesn’t save a household over a PHEV or BEV when fossil fuel costs are factored. 

You can see the full details on the ASAI website.

To conclude, IEVOA would gladly welcome a representative from Toyota or their advertisers to issue a rebuttal to our claims, and even participate in any upcoming IEVOA event to speak to members of the EV community about how they see themselves positioned in the market. A market they clearly see themselves in, as per their ads which ASAI see no issues with.

Further, we would welcome any statement, comment or attendance at any event IEVOA organises from folks at ASAI to outline where they see greenwashing as a core issue for their work over the coming years, particularly as companies “bandwagon” on the climate crisis and the switch to an electric, sustainable future.