Toyota's iconic Prius, the hybrid electric and petrol engine car, is not as
green as the company claims, according to a damning independent assessment.
Advertising watchdogs say Toyota has been unable to back-up claims that
drivers could save up to one ton of CO2 per year compared to an equivalent
As a result, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned the car
giant from making the claim in future advertising.
The Prius has become the icon of the green motoring revolution, attracting
celebrity customers from Cameron Diaz and Jane Fonda to Leonardo diCaprio
and Harrison Ford.
And it was recently voted Britain's best-loved car, largely because it is
perceived to be kinder to the environment.
However, the ASA has decided that the car is clearly not as green as Toyota
has been suggesting in its advertising.
A voice-over in a TV ad boasted: "What if all cars were like the Prius, with
its hybrid synergy drive technology, it emits up to one ton less CO2 per
This was backed up by on-screen text, which stated: "1 ton of CO2 less than
an equivalent family vehicle with a diesel engine. Average calculated on
20,000km a year. Toyota Prius: CO2 emissions: 104g/km."
a.. Sales of 'ecocars' have doubled as motorists shun gas guzzling models
The ASA called in independent analysts who confirmed the Prius does emit
less carbon than other similar cars.
However, it has concluded that Toyota has effectively manipulated the
figures to exaggerate the CO2 saving.
The ASA said the claims made by the car giant looked more impressive because
it had failed to compare the Prius with an equivalent vehicle.
The petrol engine in the Prius is relatively small at 1.5 litres. However,
the company's claims of reduced carbon output were based on a comparison
with the bigger engine on a 1.8 litre diesel car.
In fact, the CO2 saving was not as much as one ton when compared to cars
with 1.5 litre engines. While fewer than half of new cars with a 1.8 litre
engine emitted an extra one ton of CO2 per year.
Toyota also based its claims on drivers travelling 20,000 kilometres -
12,500 miles a year - which is the average for the USA.
The figure for the UK is a lower 13,440km - 8,350 miles - which means the
total amount of carbon saved per year by British drivers of the Prius is
likely to be less than claimed in the commercial.
Toyota defended its claims, arguing that while its car has a 1.5 litre
engine, the power output is equivalent to more powerful cars. Consequently,
the company insisted it was fair to compare its emissions with vehicles with
a 1.8 litre engine.
The company also argued that the use of 20,000km - 12,500 miles - was "a
reasonable average annual distance travelled by a car". None of this
satisfied the ASA, which states in a judgement: "We did not consider their
evidence demonstrated that it emitted one ton less than equivalent vehicles
with diesel engines or that it took into account the average annual distance
driven by private cars in the UK."
Consequently, it has banned the commercial because it was misleading and
breached rules covering the use of environmental claims and comparisons.
This is not the first time that Toyota has been found to have exaggerated
the green credentials of its vehicles.
Its luxury brand, Lexus, was recently censured by the ASA over bogus claims
that motorists could drive its hybrid 4x4 with "low emissions, zero guilt."
The car, a favourite of Tory leader David Cameron and Sir Paul McCartney,
may rely partially on electric engines, however it still emits more carbon
than many other vehicles.
The ASA's decision on the Prius will dent its reputation, however it seems
unlikely to make a meaningful impact on sales.
The UK's annual sales of hybrid "ecocars" has risen 111 per cent in the past
year to 6,568.
Toyota has delivered 3,698 Prius saloons to customers so far this year but
could have sold a lot more if the factory in Japan had been able to produce
Showrooms have reported exceptional demand for the car, which is priced from
£17,780, especially in London, where there is a two-month waiting list.
Its popularity is helped by the fact it is exempt from the £8-a-day
Company spokesman, Scott Brownlee, said: "Demand is outstripping supply.
Many parts of the world are seeing the same thing because supplies are
"Global Prius sales are up 70 per cent. The factory can't make them quick
enough and we can't get as many as we could sell in the UK."