A billboard shows a Toyota car advert and an image of cars in traffic. A caption reads "Toyota's Beyond Zero meand flogging gas-guzzlers for decades to come"

How Toyota and BMW adverts hide their anti-climate lobbying

This week, activists from Brandalism, the Subvertisers International and XR groups have been taking action across Europe criticising Toyota and BMW for their misleading adverts and anti-climate lobbying. 

Local Adblock groups in Norwich, Exeter and London took part, replacing ads in bus stops and on billboards using artworks designed by Lindsay Grime, Merny Wernz, Matt Bonner, Darren Cullen and others.

But what makes BMW and Toyota so bad?

In April 2022, Toyota published an advert in The Guardian showing a range of cars and buses, some traditional, some futuristic. 

Captioning the image are the words “Beyond Zero”, the name of Toyota’s Electric Vehicle (EV) strategy, launched in April 2021. 

The words accompanying the ad herald a glorious new age in which cars emit water instead of CO2, autonomous vehicles drive away congestion, and “restrictions don’t restrict but inspire us to overcome.”

Just a few short months after this ad ran in national newspapers, Toyota threatened to end their UK manufacturing operations unless the government dropped plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, including hybrids, by 2030.

In fact, Toyota has lobbied governments all over the world – from Norway to India, Japan, Australia and the US – in an effort to delay the phase-out of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. 

Last year, Influence Map ranked Toyota the 10th worst company in the world for their anti-climate lobbying, placing them above all other car makers. Only oil and gas extraction companies came ahead of Toyota in this ranking. But you won’t see this in Toyota’s marketing. 

Why all the lobbying? 

Toyota’s advertising is filled with images of EVs driving through nature, leaving behind nothing but water vapour. Their production and sales figures tell a different story. 

In 2021, of 10.3 million cars sold by Toyota globally, only 14,000 were pure EVs (i.e. not hybrids) whilst over 2 million were hybrids, partly powered by fossil fuels. 

Toyota CEO, Akio Toyoda, has on many occasions spoken publicly about his reservations about EVs and his plans for Toyota to continue producing hybrids through the 2030s. 

However, despite advertising hybrid models as ‘green’, there is evidence that the real world emissions of hybrids are up to 12 times higher than official figures released by car manufacturers. 

In order to meet Paris Climate Agreement targets for emissions reductions, the car industry needs to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2030. Toyota’s production schedule is set to overshoot this by as much as 184%, the biggest overshoot of any car manufacturer. 

It’s not just Toyota, of course. In the Influence Map ranking referenced above, BMW came 16th for their anti-climate lobbying. Like Mr Toyoda, CEO Oliver Zipse has been similarly vocal against EVs, lobbing government around the world to delay petrol and diesel phase-out. 

Two-thirds of BMW’s electric cars are hybrids and the company has been accused of using hybrids to meet emissions limits whilst continuing their corporate strategy of selling heavily polluting vehicles like the X range of SUVs

What can be done?

Alongside campaigners from Brandalism and Badvertising, we want to see tighter regulations on car advertising to ensure that companies like Toyota cannot use ads to greenwash themselves and mislead the public. 

Last year, the French government passed legislation whereby car companies wishing to advertise  on TV, radio, online or in print in France must display in the ad one of three slogans: “on a daily basis, take public transport”, “consider carpooling”, or “for short journeys, walking or bicycling is preferable.”

Further, from 2028, it will be illegal in France to advertise vehicles with emissions levels above 123 grams of CO2 per km. 

Could such legislation be passed here in the UK, too? Maybe, but in the meantime we’re pushing for local councils to use the powers they have to limit car advertising on ad sites they own, like bus stops and billboards. 

Councils in Norwich, North Somerset and Cambridgeshire have all done this already, passing motions banning adverts for environmentally-damaging products on advertising sites they own.

Check out Badvertising’s Policy Toolkit for Policymakers for more on why high carbon ad bans are needed and what local councils can do to tale action.

And if you would like your council to be next in introducing a ban, why not write to your councillor demanding a ban on high carbon advertising?

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