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Vehicle ads fail to provide pollution data

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Vehicle ads fail to provide greenhouse gas and air pollution data for consumers

A study of vehicle advertisements in New Zealand magazines has found that they failed to provide adequate information about greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. This is despite public concern about global climate change and air pollution from vehicles.

The study by the University of Otago, Wellington, analysed 514 vehicle advertisements in the two monthly current affairs magazines, North & South and Metro over a five year period (2001-2005). Over a third (36%) of the vehicles advertised were SUVs or 4 wheel drives.

The results showed that only 3% of advertisements provided information on fuel efficiency and only 4% on greenhouse gas (CO2) and air pollution emissions. Also over these five years the reported engine size increased significantly while fuel efficiency did not.

The lead author, Dr Nick Wilson says “these findings suggest that the vehicle industry is paying lip service to the important issues of climate change and air pollution, despite these being critical issues for New Zealand and the world to address”.

By analysing available data from manufacturers and government websites in 2006, the study showed that the average ‘greenhouse rating’ of vehicles for carbon dioxide (CO2) was 5.1, with a range from 0.5 to 8.5 (10 least and 0.5 most polluting). With air pollution measurements (carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen) the average rating was still only 5.4 on the above scale.

The yearly averages for greenhouse or air pollution ratings did not improve significantly over the five year period for all the vehicles studied.

“One of the other interesting findings of this study is that using data from Land Transport New Zealand’s website, the average fuel efficiency for these advertised vehicles ranged very widely from as good as 4.4L/100km for a hybrid car to a gas-guzzling 18.6 L/100km,” says co-author Dr George Thomson.

“As for the manufacturers’ websites, two thirds provided fuel efficiency figures, but only 41% provided emissions information. This means it would have been difficult for purchasers to determine if they were buying a more environmentally friendly vehicle over this period, even if they made the effort to go to the website from the ad.”

The study reports that in contrast to Europe, New Zealand still has very polluting vehicles. For the new vehicles advertised in New Zealand, the average CO2 emission level was 241-260 g/km, while for European cars made in 2006 it was 160 g/km.

The authors say that there is a need for better regulation of vehicle advertising, that goes far beyond the recently introduced efficiency labels on cars for sale.

“Improving the information in ads helps improve consumer choice and may also help save money if consumers buy more efficient vehicles,” says Dr Wilson. He also says that the European Union already requires emissions information on car advertisements.

More generally, Dr Wilson also argues that from a public health perspective New Zealand would benefit from improved fuel efficiency and emissions regulations covering all vehicles on the roads.

The research has been published in the international journal ‘Environmental Health’.


A copy of the article is available at:

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