The Met Office has issued a report this week in which it said that there was a 98% chance of one of the next five years being the warmest on record, and World Environment Day is coming up on 5 June, so it seems a good time to consider CAP’s new guidance on key considerations when advertising fully electric or hybrid vehicles, which updates their guidance from 2020. The guidance breaks down into four key topics:

Emissions while driving

The guidance warns against overclaiming. It highlights a 2021 ad for a hydrogen fuel cell powered electric SUV, which claimed that the car was “so beautifully clean, it purifies the air as it goes”. It featured a runner on a treadmill contained in a plastic bubble attached to the car’s exhaust – the picture hopefully explains! While accepting that the car’s systems would purify and remove harmful particles from the air as the car was driving, the ASA noted that particulates from brake and tyre wear would still be released from the car, and these might not necessarily be removed by the car’s filtration system. Consequently, the ad was likely to mislead.

Absolute environmental claims

The guidance also highlights absolute environmental claims as a particular problem area. It refers to an e-scooter ad from 2022 which encouraged people to “be environmentally... friendly take a [scooter]”.  The ASA considered that the claim was an absolute claim that the scooter would cause no environmental damage at all throughout its lifecycle. The manufacturers were unable to substantiate this. The example applies equally as well to car advertising.

Absolute environmental claims are also flagged as being particularly problematic in the CMA’s Green Claims Code, which explains that terms such as “green”, “sustainable” or “eco-friendly”, especially if used without explanation, are likely to be seen as suggesting that the product or service being advertised has a positive environmental impact, or at least no adverse impact.

Clarity about the technology involved

The guidance calls for clarity around the technology involved in hybrid and electric cars and highlights the ambiguity that can arise from the use of certain terminology.

Back in 2014, the ASA upheld a complaint against an ad for an extended-range electric vehicle. It was headed "AMPERA THE EXTENDED-RANGE ELECTRIC VEHICLE" and accompanied by copy stating “Compared to other electric cars the Ampera, with up to 360-mile range…and charge time of just 6 hours does it all ...". The ASA said this could be interpreted as a claim about the range the vehicle was capable of, rather than a statement of the vehicle type.

However, the ASA has confirmed that the description of a car as a “self-charging hybrid” is unlikely to mislead consumers. It rejected arguments that it would be confused with a plug-in hybrid. It concluded that the claim “self-charging hybrid” was likely to be understood to mean that the internal mechanics of the car would charge the electric battery.

Previous CAP guidance

from mid-2020 sought to clarify the terminology that should be used for different kinds of hybrid and electric vehicle, dealing with the differences between BEVs, HEVs, MHEVs, PHEVs and E-REVs. We had hoped for more updated guidance on terminology, as consumer understanding has developed over the last three years, but that is yet to appear.

Hybrids and fuel consumption claims

Also on the watch list are fuel efficiency claims and related claims about potential costs savings from using hybrid and electric vehicles. 

The guidance gives examples of misleading MPG claims, which didn’t take proper account of the combination of mains electricity and petrol fuel, as well as misleading claims about reduced CO2 emissions. 

It also warns against misleading claims about future cost savings. The ad in question 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 calculating a savings claim. This is a point worth emphasising at a time of higher fuel prices, as the claims may quickly become misleading if the prices at the pump decrease.

The road ahead…

CAP has also recently produced more general guidance on environmental claims and fuel consumption.  Environmental claims are a hot topic generally – and regulators such as the CMA and the European Commission are also carrying out investigations and proposing new legislation in this regard.