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Agency: Javelin Advertising
Medium: Broadcast, Online
ASAI Code 7th Edition: 2.4(c), 4.1, 4.4, 4.9, 4.10, 4.11
Radio, television and social media advertising for Toyota Hybrid cars included the following statements:
Radio Advert 1:
“How do you make a difference? Discover why thousands of people are making the switch to Toyota Hybrid. Up to 55% of the time you drive you are in electric mode and yet you never have to plug it in. You use up to 40% less fuel and deliver cleaner air for our children's children. With Toyota Hybrid there is no compromise and for a limited time you can upgrade to Hybrid for free. Toyota. Built for a better world. Terms and conditions apply.”
Radio Advert 2:
“The way we drive is changing. Toyota is leading that change with 48% of our drivers choosing a self-charging hybrid electric car. Till March 31st, you can upgrade to a Toyota hybrid for free. There’s also a trade in trade up bonus of up to €4,500 and APR’s from just 2.9%. These offers must end on March 31st so make a change for the better, today.
Toyota, Built for a better world”
Female customer testimonial:
“The big benefit I think in driving a hybrid would be, just the fuel economy. You really notice the difference. I'm very busy, just between school runs and all the different jobs that I have running around as a mum. I'd only have to fill the car once every 5 or 6 weeks. Air pollution is a big talking point, I'm driving my 3 children to school every morning knowing that I'm making a difference to their future. For me, Toyota hybrid is definitely the way to go, it's a no brainer.”
Male customer testimonial:
“Having this, its huge savings with the hybrid in comparison with my previous diesel. It’s probably more suited to a rural area because you get to use the battery mode a lot. I obviously take the cost savings of the fuel, insurance and the car tax, it’s a huge saving. Someone with a young family, that makes a huge difference, like, you know it’s the price of a holiday. Hybrids have been around at Toyota for 20 years. For me it was easy to switch from diesel. I’m completely bought into it.”
The post also featured the television advertisement featuring the female customer and stated:
“Watch why (name) from Dublin decided to switch to a Toyota self-charging Hybrid. Fuel economy, air quality and her children’s future were important factors for her.
Discover Hybrid www.toyotahybrid.ie #selfcharginghybrid"
Eleven complaints were received regarding the advertising.
The complainants considered that the claim “self-charging” was misleading as the car’s battery was being charged by external power, in this case by the internal combustion engine which used petrol or diesel. One complainant said that the battery did re-charge from the momentum of the vehicle when slowing down, but that this momentum was created by the petrol or diesel fuel in the first place
One complainant considered that the use of the term “self-charging” was misleading as it indicated to a consumer that they were buying a car that was constantly producing electricity to propel it through perpetual motion which they considered was impossible as energy could not be created or destroyed, it was transferred from one form to another. The complainant considered that consumers may think that they were buying a car that ran on electrical energy 100% of the time, which was untrue as the car was still primarily powered from conventional fuels such as petrol or diesel.
One complaint claimed that the cars were 100% fossil fuel powered but that they had an extra battery which propelled the cars at low speed but that the internal combustion engine engaged thereafter. The complainant said that the battery did re-charge from the momentum of the vehicle when slowing down, however the momentum was created by the petrol or diesel engine in the first place. The complainant considered that this was the reason the advertising was misleading to non-technically minded consumers who were of the impression that the cars charged themselves.
Another complainant believed that the advertisers were claiming that their hybrid cars were more efficient than a plug in hybrid or an electric only car. One complainant considered that hybrid cars had no ability to charge from electricity as they were not plug-in hybrid vehicles.
One complainant considered that the advertising was claiming that the hybrid vehicles were superior to those that needed to be plugged in.
They considered that the claim in the television advertising to save money had not been substantiated and that overall the advertising was making scientifically false and misleading claims.
The advertisers stated that their hybrid cars fit into a category of electrified vehicle called ‘Hybrid Electric Vehicles’ and that the term ‘Hybrid Electric Vehicle’ was defined in the Revenue Commissioner’s VRT manual as “hybrid electric vehicle means a series production vehicle that derives its motive power from a combination of an electric motor and an internal combustion engine and is capable of being driven on electric propulsion alone for a material part of its normal driving cycle.” To further explain what a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) is the advertiser stated that a HEV car can be driven by either the petrol engine, the hybrid battery or by a combination of both. They said that the hybrid battery could be charged by both the car’s petrol engine and by using regenerative braking (capturing the energy used in braking the vehicle and turning it into electricity). They said that an external power source was never used to charge the hybrid battery, therefore the vehicle was self-charging. They said that this was an important distinction and that they were not claiming that the vehicle was self-fuelling, but were saying that the electric part of the vehicle was charged without external source.
They referred to research that had been carried out by the CARe (Centre for automotive Research and Evolution) in Rome where the advertisers’ Prius cars were driven over a 33.4Km course made up of a mixture of urban and suburban driving, for multiple times covering a total of 2,670 Km. They said that the results of the study showed that the hybrid cars could drive in electric mode (no emissions and no usage of fossil fuels) for up to 53% of the drive time. They said that it was found that for the entirety of the test, over 34% of the energy supplied to the wheels came from regenerative braking. They provided further information as to how electricity was generated to allow a hybrid drive in pure electric mode for up to 53% stating that; electricity was generated by the engine as the car was driving and whilst the engine efficiency was high and through regenerative braking whereby during deceleration and while depressing the brake pedal, part of the energy that normally was lost as heat was collected as electrical energy to be reused. They said that energy regeneration to create electricity could be created when the car was driving in pure electric mode, therefore, electricity was generated without the direct usage of the engine or fossil fuels.
They stated that the electric motor could exclusively drive the car without dependence on the petrol engine and it was this electric motor that was self-charging. They said that this was the reason they said hybrid was self-charging as the vehicle created its own electricity and an external power source was never used to charge the hybrid batter. They said that they were not claiming that the vehicle used no external fuel, and that while it was correct that petrol created the momentum to accelerate or to climb a hill, in the deceleration or descent that follows, while conventional vehicles waste the energy, a Toyota hybrid harnesses the kinetic energy by self-charging the battery which was done repeatedly and continuously.
They said that the purpose of using the term ‘self-charging’ was to educate people that they did not need to plug in a hybrid vehicle (HEV) which unfortunately many Irish consumers still believed you did. They referred to an independent survey (1) carried out in March 2018 among 500 car drivers which showed that 24% definitely though that you need to plug in a hybrid while a further 37% were unsure whether you needed to or not. In the light of this they considered the term “self-charging” to be important in order to educate consumers that they did not need to plug in a hybrid vehicle.
The advertisers raised concerns regarding the nature of the complaints as they considered that the complaints were from a core group of electric vehicle advocates and used common language being used across the individual complaints.
The advertisers stated that the full term used in their advertising was “self-charging hybrid” and with the inclusion of the word ‘hybrid’ they did not see how a consumer could think that they were buying a car that ran on electrical energy 100% of the time. They said that the term ‘self-charging hybrid’ had been used in both Toyota and Lexus Ireland advertising (and European markets) to distinguish the hybrid models being advertised from their plug-in counterparts. They again stated that the full name assigned to the category of cars was hybrid electric vehicle and that they were a vehicle combining a conventional engine with an electric motor, therefore, consumers were buying a partially electric car when they bought hybrid.
The advertisers said that it was incorrect to say that the cars were 100% powered by fossil fuels as hybrid cars were powered by a combination of a conventional petrol engine and an electric engine. They said that when a user brakes or takes their foot off the accelerator when driving a Toyota self-charging hybrid, a system called ‘regenerative braking’ kicked in as the car no longer needs to apply power to the wheels. They said that this allowed the spinning wheels to power the vehicle’s generator, producing electricity and storing it in the battery for later use, therefore, the vehicles were self-charging in that they never needed to be plugged in. They also said that the word charging in its essence pertained to electricity and the electric motor in their hybrid vehicles charging itself.
They also said that the term used by them was self-charging hybrid and not self-charging car, and in addition to the conventional petrol engine, the regenerative braking system produces and stores electricity for later use when the driver brakes or takes their foot off the accelerator, therefore, the charging does not all come from the petrol bought as the complainants asserted.
The advertisers stated that their advertising made no comparative claims between the efficiency of their range of self-charging hybrids and plug-in hybrids or electric only vehicles. They did accept that they had made and substantiated claims against their cars efficiency over traditional and diesel vehicles.
In response to the complaint that their hybrid vehicles had no ability to charge from electricity, they said that none of their advertisements had stated that Toyota hybrids charge from electricity.
The advertisers stated that they had never claimed that not having to plug in their hybrids was a benefit. They said that advertising was used by brands to promote their products and services and the aim was to present their products as superior to others. They said that this was done within the parameters of the ASAI Code and in their case it was true that their hybrids did not have to be plugged in to be charged. They did not, however, consider that they had claimed that their hybrids were superior to cars that only plugged in to be charged.
As outlined earlier in their response to Issue 1, the advertisers said that the purpose of using the term ‘self-charging’ was to educate people that they did not need to plug in a hybrid vehicle (HEV) which unfortunately many Irish consumers still believed you did. They again referred to the independent survey (2) carried out in March 2018 among 500 car drivers which showed that 24% definitely though that you need to plug in a hybrid while a further 37% were unsure whether you needed to or not. In the light of this they considered the term “self-charging” to be important in order to educate consumers that they did not need to plug in a hybrid vehicle.
The advertisers said that the claim to save money had appeared in a testimonial advertisement that had featured a genuine customer testimonial. They said that the testimonial was completely unscripted and were the words of the customer featured. In regards to the amount of money that could be saved, they said that this was variable and was dependent on many factors including how much the customer drove and where they were driving, for example, predominantly in an urban or rural setting.
(1) Source MORAR HPI
(2) Source MORAR HPI
Complaints Upheld In Part
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaints and the advertisers’ response.
Issues 1 and 3:
The Committee noted that the complainants all understood the term ‘self-charging’ to mean that the car was charging itself whereas the complainants considered that hybrid vehicles all required petrol or diesel to fuel the internal combustion engine (ICE) which in turn burns the fuel, creating kinetic energy and some of that energy was used to charge the car’s battery. The Committee noted that the hybrid electric battery could be charged by both the car’s petrol engine and by using regenerative braking whereby the car captured the energy used in braking the vehicle, turning it into electricity.
The Committee noted that the advertisers had stated that they had not claimed that their hybrid electric vehicles were self-fuelling, but that they had stated that the electric part of their vehicles were charged without an external source, such as plugging in.
The Committee considered the claim ‘self-charging hybrid electric car’. They noted the complainants views’ that the claim ‘self-charging’ was misleading as the cars contained internal combustion engines which were fuelled by an external fossil fuel source. The Committee considered however that while the ICE was fuelled by an external source, the hybrid battery was charged by the ICE and by regenerative braking, and that it did not require a source external to car. They did not consider that the claim ‘self-charging hybrid electric car’ was in breach of the Code.
The Committee noted the complainant’s concerns, however, they agreed that the advertising had made it clear that the cars being advertised were hybrid electric vehicles, which by their definition, had both an internal combustion engine and an electric battery. In the circumstances the Committee did not consider that any breach of the Code had occurred.
The Committee noted that one of the radio advertisements had stated “how do you make a difference” and then had referred to how their customers were making a “switch to hybrid”. In the light of this statement the Committee considered that the advertising was referring to the change from a car powered only by an internal combustion engine to a hybrid vehicle. The Committee did not consider that the claim to “use up to 40% less fuel” to be a comparative claim with a plug-in hybrid or a battery electric vehicle, but rather was a claim against a standard car with only an internal combustion engine. The Committee noted that the advertising had not claimed that the hybrid cars could be charged from electricity. In the circumstances the Committee did not consider that these aspects of the complaints were in breach of the Code.
In regards to the complaint that the advertising was claiming that hybrid electric vehicles were superior to plug in hybrid vehicles or fully electric vehicles, the Committee noted that the advertisers had stated that they had not claimed that not having to plug in their hybrids was a benefit, yet one of the radio advertisements had stated “and yet you never had to plug it in” which the Committee considered could be perceived both as a benefit of the vehicles and as a statement of fact. The Committee, also noted the results of the independent survey in regards to the assumptions of Irish consumers that all electrified vehicles needed to be plugged in to be charged and how it was on foot of this research that had been the reason for the claim being made in their radio advertisement.
The Committee considered that the decision of which type of electrical vehicle to choose was based on individuals’ decisions on the benefits for them of one type over another. 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.
The Committee noted that the advertisements that featured customer testimonials had included claims by the customers in question that they had made savings. While the Committee noted that the testimonials were unscripted and were the opinions of the two customers, the testimonials had been used and the impression given by the advertisements was that in general, customers would make savings by switching to a Toyota hybrid car. While the Committee accepted that savings were dependent on various factors, no indication had been given in the advertising to the fact that savings were variable and dependent on a range factors. In the circumstances the Committee did not consider that the savings claims had been qualified or substantiated.
The advertising containing the testimonials must be amended or withdrawn.