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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Volkswagen The Volkswagen ID.4 is the most popular electric car in Ireland

Watchdog warns about electric car 'zero emissions' claims

Volkswagen said it would include a disclaimer in future advertising if repeating the “zero driving emissions” claim.

THE ADVERTISING WATCHDOG has warned that marketing claims that battery-electric vehicles have “zero driving emissions” need to be explained.

The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) was responding to a complaint about a television advertisement for Volkswagen’s ID.3 and ID.4 electric cars.

In the ad, Volkswagen claimed that it makes “all-electric cars with zero driving emissions”. However, the complainants, who have not been named by the ASAI, argued that every car emits tyre particles and brake pad particles.

Responding to the complaint, Volkswagen told the ASAI that the term “emissions”, when used in the context of car advertising, was “widely accepted and understood by consumers to refer to emissions emanating directly from the source of power of the vehicle”. In petrol and diesel cars, that meant exhaust emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which battery-powered vehicles did not emit.

However, the carmaker added that it wanted to promote transparency on the topic of emissions, so it pledged to include a disclaimer alongside any claim of “zero driving emissions”in future advertisements. This disclaimer would clarify that driving emissions referred to exhaust emissions. 

The ASAI said it considered this to be an appropriate response. It said its complaints committee ”considered that consumers’ understanding of the claim would generally relate to tailpipe emissions”. However, “it was, as an unqualified claim, not correct and had the potential to mislead”. 

The ASAI said that where “zero driving emissions” claims are made, appropriate disclaimers should be linked to these claims, and it urged advertisers to take care when making absolute claims in marketing communications. The watchdog confined itself to issuing this advice, stopping short of upholding the complaint.

Volkswagen Ireland / YouTube

The ID.4, an SUV with a €44,000 price tag, has been by far the bestselling new electric car in Ireland since 2021. Almost 2,000 were sold in the first five months of this year, according to figures from the Society of the Irish Motor Industry. It is also the most popular car on Done Deal.

Tyre wear and tear is a significant source of harmful particulate pollution in the environment. It contributes to microplastic pollution of rivers and seas, while the smallest particles become airborne and can be breathed in.

Earlier this year, researchers at Imperial College London warned that even though electric vehicles removed the problem of fuel emissions, six million tonnes of tyre pollution released globally each year remained to be addressed. Because electric vehicles tend to be heavier, this might result in increased tyre wear. 

The ASAI has received several complaints about carmakers’ environmental claims in recent years, upholding complaints against firms including Toyota and Land Rover. Last year, it upheld another complaint against Volkswagen in relation to its marketing of the  ID.3 and ID.4, after the carmaker described these as “carbon neutral” in a radio advertisement.

The complainant said electric cars were not carbon neutral when charged using electricity generated from fossil fuels and the ASAI concluded there was “no guarantee” the vehicles would be carbon neutral while being charged.

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