A hidden emergency

If I told you that when the most profitable companies in the world are ranked by their emissions, eight of the top 20 most polluting companies are oil and gas giants, you’d probably be unsurprised. However, if I told you that another five of the top 20 are carmakers, it might give you pause for thought.

Of course, it makes total sense when you think about it. After all, to put it simply, cars burn fossil fuels. In 2023, Toyota pumped out over 10 million cars worldwide, over 99% of which primarily rely on fossil fuels. A recent campaign by Badvertising found that between 1992 and 2022, Toyota’s emissions added up to a mind-boggling 15.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Carmakers have done a fantastic job of hiding their contribution to climate change. Through decades of clever marketing and behind the scenes lobbying they have built a reputation as ‘the good guys’, part of everyday life for so many people who rely on cars to get to work, to the shops, to see family and for just about everything else.

But such advertising is illusory. Cars almost never deliver the freedom their ads promise, and more frequently bind drivers into car dependence and financial precarity. They provide comfort only at the expense of other people’s safety and the wellbeing of the natural world. Most recently, carmakers’ advertising has shifted towards the promotion of SUVs, prompting the stratospheric rise in SUV ownership since 2010 and generating an environmental catastrophe utterly at odds with the glossy vision of unimpinged freedom on show in so many ads.

What can you do?

Car advertising presents a future of clear, green mobility. In reality, carmakers continue to push polluting vehicles even as they block and delay climate policies around the world. In short, car ads promise the very future the auto industry is trashing.

We can take action now to stop car ads providing a vehicle for continued fossil fuel use.

A group of people hold a banner reading "Stop SUV Ads"

Our work

Taking down Toyota

Since 2022, Adfree Cities has been part of a global network of campaign groups targeting the world’s biggest carmaker, Toyota, over the company’s misleading green advertising, persistent anti-climate lobbying and failure to act on transport decarbonisation.

As well as being the biggest car maker in the world by sales. Toyota is also a leader in greenwash and climate delay. Toyota is regularly ranked amongst the worst car makers globally for action on climate change, including being ranked worst of all car makers for electric vehicle preparedness, and most recently coming third from bottom in Greenpeace’s annual auto rankings

Moreover, Toyota has consistently lobbied against climate action in countries around the world. Here in the UK they have been a vocal opponent of the zero emissions vehicle mandate, going so far as to threaten to end UK manufacturing if the mandate wasn’t dropped. More recently, Toyota was actively lobbying against the mandate in the months up to Rishi Sunak announcing a delay to the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035. Read more here and here, and see Toyota’s positive response to Sunak’s announcement here

Led from the top by former CEO and now chairman Akio Toyoda, Toyota has been a prominent critic of electric vehicles and routinely pushed the idea that hybrids (which still rely on fossil fuels) are a better choice for drivers and for the planet. To date, Toyota offers just one battery electric vehicle, the bZ4X. In 2022, just 0.42% of Toyota’s total global sales were zero emission vehicles (battery EVs or fuel cell EVs), whilst hybrids made up 98.6% of electric sales.

Screenshot from a Toyota advert showing the words "let's go beyond"

Find out more

Explore all our work on Toyota and greenwash in car advertising.


ElectriLIED

Carmakers are hijacking the shift to low and zero carbon transport by pushing hybrid SUVs, which offer negligible emissions savings, are more dangerous to other road users and are more expensive to buy and run.

In May 2024, we submitted a complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on the issue of misleading electric vehicle advertising. We highlighted how many carmakers are shifting consumer focus away from zero emission vehicles like battery EVs towards hybrids, which still rely on fossil fuels as a main or sole energy source, whilst using confusing language to leave drivers in the dark about what car they are buying.

Accompanying the complaint we launched the website electrilied.co.uk, a partner to the elecctrified.com website launched in the US. The site explains how carmakers’ hybrid advertising exploits driver confusion about hybrids and electric vehicles and delays the shift to zero carbon transport.

Electrilied. How misleading hybrid advertising confuses drivers and delays the shift to zero carbon transport.

Find out more

Discover ElectriLIED and explore the website where you’ll also find ways to take part in the campaign for better electric and hybrid vehicle advertising regulation.

Toyota Hilux ad ban

In November 2023 a series of adverts for the Toyota Hilux pickup were banned by the ad regulator following a complaint by Adfree Cities. We argued that the portrayal of off-road driving was irresponsible for the way it encouraged driving that could damage nature and the environment. The ruling by the regulator marks the first time that SUV ads have been banned in the UK for socially irresponsible depiction of off-road driving.

We followed the ruling by paying a visit to the offices of The&Partnership, the ad agency that made the ads. We protested outside the offices calling on The&Partnership, and all ad agencies, to stop representing big polluters like Toyota.

Brandalism 2023

In January 2023, Adfree Cities supported a campaign by international subvertising group Brandalism and activist groups across the UK and Europe that reclaimed advertising space to call out the actions of carmakers Toyota and BMW.

Dozens of billboards and hundreds of bus stop ads were installed with creative artworks designed to question Toyota and BMW’s long history of anti-climate lobbying and greenwashing advertising.

A billboard image of a large car and the caption "Toyota Land Crusher"
Artwork: Lindsay Grime. Image: Brandalism.
A billboard with an image of a car under the word "let's ruin everything"
Artwork: Hogre. Image: Brandalism.