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Calling electric cars ‘zero emissions’ is misleading, claims Advertising Standards Authority

The bombshell ruling states that car manufacturers can only use ‘zero emissions’ about when EVs are being driven

Electric car advertisements from both BMW and MG came under fire. (BMW)
Electric car advertisements from both BMW and MG came under fire. (BMW) Electric car advertisements from both BMW and MG came under fire. (BMW)

Electric cars shouldn’t be advertised under the blanket ‘zero emissions’ term, according to a new watchdog ruling.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) monitors and investigates complaints made against adverts, and has recently ruled against two separate pieces of marketing for BMW and MG electric vehicles that contained the words ‘zero emissions’.

The ASA said that the ‘basis of environmental claims must be clear’ and has said that if adverts don’t make it clear that ‘zero emissions’ only applies ‘while they are being driven it is likely to mislead’. That’s because while electric cars don’t produce any emissions from the tailpipe, there are emissions involved in the manufacture of EVs, as well as the production of electricity used to charge them.

The use of ‘zero emissions’ should only be referred to when driving, not as a blanket term, the ASA ruled.
Pure battery electric new car registrations The use of ‘zero emissions’ should only be referred to when driving, not as a blanket term, the ASA ruled. (John Walton/PA)

Both rulings relate to paid-for Google advertisements on August 16 last year, with a claim made by MG saying: “Find A Dealer – Book A Test Drive. Save £1,000 On Your Next MG HS Plug-in Hybrid, MG ZS or MG5 EV Trophy Long Range Renewed with a modern design, increased range, and even more technology. Zero Emissions”.

Though MG confirmed to the ASA that all ‘zero emissions’ references had been removed, the watchdog said: “Any associated ‘zero emissions’ claim needed to clarify that it referred to emissions while the vehicle was driven on the electric motor. Similar claims for vehicles powered by petrol or diesel engines would always mislead.”

Similarly, BMW said it had bid on terms such as ‘zero emissions cars’ on Google search to target customers looking at this type of vehicle, and hadn’t planned for the ‘zero emissions’ mention to be included in the advert.

MG’s advertisements had also made reference to ‘zero emissions’. (MG)
MG 5 MG’s advertisements had also made reference to ‘zero emissions’. (MG) (Richard Parsons)

BMW confirmed they had halted all bidding on any zero-emissions keywords as a result and would also be more rigorous in how it would vet future adverts.

While the ASA said it “welcomed BMW’s assurance that the claim would not be repeated in the future”, it concluded that the use of ‘zero emission cars’ without any further context was “likely to mislead”.