Is advert ruling the end of zero emissions driving?

A recent Advertising Standards Authority adjudication could have a big effect on future car marketing and the use of the phrase ‘zero emissions’.

Typically, an electric car will be labelled as zero emissions by the motoring industry, as there is no need for petrol or diesel to power the car.

Now the ASA has banned a Renault advert for claiming the car is zero emissions because it failed to take into account the entire manufacturing process or the emissions used to produce the electricity.

But is this right?

It’s a tricky situation. The Renault advert did state:

"For us, global warming goes beyond the emissions coming out of the exhaust. It’s an issue we address before, during and after manufacture. From next year, Renault will launch a range of zero emission vehicles to drive the car forward again".

Obviously linking the entire production process to zero emissions is not correct, and the wording does make it seem the entire process will produce zero emissions.

However, the fact remains the majority of the car industry has become accustomed to labelling electric cars as zero emissions vehicles. Now there has been a distinction made between a zero emissions vehicle and zero emissions driving, car manufacturers will need to be careful when wording adverts in future.

This could even be the end of ‘zero emission’ being used as a way of describing a new car altogether. The ASA also showed concern over the use of the term for electric vehicles, as the production of electricity does produce CO2.

Renault combated the criticism by saying the cars can be powered by electricity produced through renewable sources, but ASA believed the car would more than likely be charged from the National Grid, which is not 100% renewable energy powered.

The adjudication was as a result of 17 complaints. This makes it entirely possibly upcoming models such as the Vauxhall Ampera – which offers 10 miles of ‘zero emissions’ driving in electric mode – will be forced to avoid the use of ‘zero emissions’ in the marketing campaign to avoid similar censorship.

It will be interesting to see how EV and plug-in hybrid cars are advertised in future. With hysteria over ‘greenwashing’ and a precedent set by the ASA, eco-friendly car manufacturers may find it difficult to get a green message across in future.

Which would be a pity, as cars such as the Renault Clio, Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3 offer low-CO2 city driving and good performance regardless of the wording of the advert.