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Toyota’s ‘electrified’ campaign is ‘textbook case of greenwashing’, consumer watchdog says

Toyota cars in showroom and logo
The Ekō report claims Toyota’s ‘electrified’ campaign is misleading would-be electric vehicle buyers (Photo: Akio Kon/Bloomberg)

Consumer watchdog Ekō has accused leading car retailer Toyota of greenwashing by labelling hybrid vehicles as ‘electrified’, but Toyota insists the label is accurate

Toyota is intentionally misleading would-be electric vehicle buyers with its online “electrified” campaign by pointing them towards hybrid petrol-fuelled vehicles, a report by New-York-based consumer watchdog group Ekō claims.

The campaign is a “textbook case of greenwashing”, the report says, accusing Toyota of intentionally “tricking” consumers, search engines and chatbots by showing search results for Toyota’s hybrid car models under the search term “electrified”, Ekō says. 

Toyota is the world’s largest car manufacturer and its “electrified” campaign can be found on five official Toyota websites, in 23 countries and in multiple languages, Ekō says.

Describing hybrid vehicles as electrified is misleading, the group insists. Hybrid vehicles, powered by an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors offer, on average, a 21 per cent emissions reduction compared with petrol-powered vehicles, while plug-in hybrid vehicles, where the electric battery is the primary source of power rather than the combustion engine, offer a 26 per cent emissions reduction compared with conventional vehicles, it says.

Julia Poliscanova, senior director for vehicles and e-mobility at Brussels-based think-tank Transport & Environment, agrees that hybrid vehicles should not be called “electrified”. “You can’t claim that reducing engine emissions by 20-30 per cent is the same as slashing them to zero,” she tells Sustainable Views.

EVs offer a 37 per cent emissions reduction when compared with conventional vehicles, “even in least-favourable scenarios, like an electric car with a battery produced in China”, the Ekō report claims, acknowledging the supply chain emissions associated with the critical minerals used in EV batteries.

“Zero-emission battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, low CO2 emission plug-in hybrid electric and hybrid electric vehicles” are all included in Toyota’s “line up of electrified products”, a Toyota spokesperson tells Sustainable Views. “Each technology has its merits and can contribute to lowering emissions.” 

Toyota falls behind EV competition

Poliscanova says: “Toyota’s reliance on hybrid technology was once an asset but has now become a liability. The failure to bring affordable [battery EVs] to the masses is bad for the planet and for the company whose electric sales have been eclipsed by BYD and Tesla.”

Ekō is calling on international regulators including the European Commission, the UK Advertising Standards Authority, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and the US Federal Trade Commission to “urgently investigate” Toyota’s marketing materials. 

The Toyota spokesperson says the company “always endeavours to comply with local advertising regulations in the markets wherever [they] operate”. 

The Ekō report also recommends that chatbot and search engine companies “invest more in making their software resistant to greenwashing and other disinformation” so that only fully electric models appear when search engine users type the terms “electrified” or “electrify”.

A spokesperson from tech company Google, said that search results for “electrified” vehicles are merely a reflection of what is available on the internet through open source web pages.

A service from the Financial Times