ASA Adjudication on General Motors UK Ltd
General Motors UK Ltd t/a
22 August 2012
Number of complaints:
Mccann Erickson Communications House Ltd
A TV ad for a car briefly showed the parked vehicle being plugged into an electricity source. It then drove quietly away; scenes of it in motion were interspersed with images of athletes in training. On-screen text stated "Comparison based on electric vehicles and extended-range electric vehicles driven electrically at all times, even when an additional power source is generating electricity". The achievements of the featured athletes were displayed on the screen, as the voice-over stated "Only true pioneers go further than others. Vauxhall Ampera, driving electricity further". On-screen text stated "Ampera, up to 360 mile range" as the car drove through wooded countryside. An electricity pylon was seen in the background. The ad closed with a website address.
Three complainants challenged whether the ad was misleading because it suggested the vehicle was capable of travelling 360 miles using electricity alone.
General Motors UK Ltd t/a Vauxhall (Vauxhall) responded that the Ampera was a unique type of car because it could be driven electrically for 360 miles. They explained that it was capable of travelling up to 50 miles on a fully charged battery, and that beyond that point the Ampera's "range extender" mode took over. In this mode the internal combustion engine acted as an on-board generator for the electric motor and would take the car the remaining distance using electricity generated from the petrol in its fuel tank. They stated that the claim that the Ampera had a 360-mile range was in fact conservative and significantly understated the range achieved in vehicle tests in order to allow for "real world" driving styles.
Vauxhall said they went to great lengths in all their advertising to communicate the unique selling point of the Ampera, the petrol engine which worked as a generator, which gave drivers the confidence to travel distances normally only associated with traditional or hybrid cars. They stated that they had explained how the Ampera worked in the on-screen text "Comparison based on electric vehicles and extended range electric vehicles driven electrically at all times, even when an additional power source is generating electricity". They emphasised that they would never intentionally mislead the public but that the car could travel 360 miles driven by electricity and they believed this was clear from the ad. They nevertheless offered to make changes to the on-screen text if this was deemed necessary.
Clearcast said they had considered the ad very carefully and had worked with a motoring consultant when assessing the claims it made. The consultant had advised them that it was accurate to claim that the vehicle had a 360-mile range. Clearcast did not believe that the ad was misleading as its focus was to demonstrate the Ampera as a new type of electric vehicle and the on-screen text made clear how it worked.
The ASA understood that the Ampera was a new type of electric vehicle which contained a combustion engine fuelled by petrol, and that this engine would start to power the car's electric motor once the battery charge was exhausted.
We acknowledged that the ad contained on-screen text which referred to the car's "additional power source". However, we considered that the qualifier "even when an additional power source is generating electricity" was ambiguous, particularly in the context of an ad for a new type of hybrid car, and that an average viewer unfamiliar with the use of petrol engines in electric vehicles would not necessarily understand what the additional power source was. We also considered that the text was unclear as to what comparison was being made.
We considered that throughout the ad the emphasis was on the fact that the car was being driven electrically, and that most viewers would not understand that the car was in some circumstances being powered by electricity generated with a petrol engine. The ad promoted an innovative product which many viewers would not immediately understand and we therefore considered that it would need to explicitly state that the car had a petrol engine. Because it did not clearly explain how the vehicle worked in extended-range mode, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising) and 9.8 (Environmental claims).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Vauxhall to ensure they clearly explained how the car worked in future advertising.