Monday, 6 April 2009

Car Ad Emissions Figures don't add up

We Are Futureproof, the environmental campaign group I helped set up, have been busy recently working with YouGov. We wrote a survey asking people to look at mocked up car ads, getting them to assess how clearly they could understand the emissions info. One of the ads had the information in the current text format in small font at the bottom of the advert. One had a colour coded format with an arrow to the correct emissions band. The survey was completed by 2007 people, and the results are illuminating:

- Just 3 in 10 people can understand vital information about fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions in the format currently shown on car adverts.

- Four times as many people say they find colour-coded format easier to understand.

The results, which we released today, show that more than half of people correctly identified the efficiency of a fictional new car called ‘Marko’ when the information was shown in a colour-coded chart, compared with less than one third when the information was presented in plain writing (56 per cent vs 31 per cent).

The number of people answering ‘don’t know’ reduced by nearly half for the new label – down from 41 per cent for the plain writing format to just 22 per cent for the colour-coded chart.

When asked which format they preferred, two thirds of people (67 per cent) chose the colour-coded format, four times as many as chose the larger, but less clearly presented plain writing (16 per cent).

It's clear people don't understand what the raw CO2 and fuel economy numbers on car adverts mean, or how different cars compare in terms of 'grams per kilometre', so it's not enough just stating these figures in billboards and magazine adverts.

Instead, the public needs to know how a car compares with others in terms of fuel efficiency and pollution, and our survey shows that a colour-coded scale is much easier to understand.

We believes that the car industry - not just consumers and the environment - would benefit from the introduction of clearer information on fuel economy.

It's not simply a case of small cars being good and big cars being bad. If the format of the efficiency information changed, it would make it much easier for consumers to see that within every class of car, such as family estates, vehicles can have very different running costs.

Other evidence shows that car drivers are keen to reduce their driving costs but confused about the information given. People increasingly cite fuel economy and running costs as an important consideration when choosing a new car. But, in the absence of clear information that is easy to understand, many drivers mistakenly assume that vehicle size is the only major factor determining fuel consumption and don’t understand how the metrics ‘mpg’ and ‘grams per kilometre’ relate to running costs.

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