ASA says fuel consumption figures are misleading


The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has labelled claims about the fuel consumption of the Audi A3 as misleading.


This is not because the figures stated are incorrect, but because Audi failed to point out that the fuel economy in real world driving could differ significantly from that of the controlled conditions the figure is based on.


The advert in questions is the promotion from Audi stating ‘Audi A3 the most fuel efficient Audi ever returning a remarkable 68.9MPG (miles per gallon) on a combined cycle’.


A member of the public complained to the ASA arguing that the advert was both misleading and unsubstantiated after they were unable to match the 68.9mpg figure.


Volkswagen Group who own Audi responded informing the ASA that the figure was accurate in terms of the official EU testing procedures – which the ASA acknowledged – but they claim the promotion is still misleading because:

‘It was unlikely to be clear to the average consumer that the figure quoted was based on a standardised test and was not necessarily representative of what they would achieve when driving the car themselves.’


‘For that reason we consider that VW should have qualified the figure to make it clear to readers that it was based on an EU test for comparative purposes and may not reflect real world driving results.’


This is the first time the ASA has become involved in the ongoing saga over the ‘official’ fuel economy figures and actual mpg figures when driving a car and this complaint is just the tip of the iceberg.


Car manufacturers use ‘cheats’ to prepare their vehicles for their compulsory fuel efficiency and emissions tests in a way set out to make themselves look as ‘clean’ as possible. This practice is common in petrol and diesel vehicle tests, but hybrid and electric vehicles are not immune as manufacturers apply these techniques to fuel efficiency.


Why? Because after all they are trying to impress the end user (you the motorist) and what better way to impress you than your car being in a lower tax category and providing you with great MPG.


How? The major loopholes in the current EU tests allow car manufacturers a number of ‘cheats’ to improve results. Car manufacturers can:


  • Disconnect the alternator, thus no energy is used to recharge the battery;
  • Use special lubricants that are not used in production cars, in order to reduce friction;
  • Turn off all electrical gadgets i.e. Air Con/Radio;
  • Use ‘slick’ tyres that are pumped hard to reduce roll resistance;
  • Adjust brakes or even disconnect them to reduce friction;
  • Tape up cracks between body panels and windows to reduce air resistance;
  • Remove Wing mirrors.



The comparison between ‘real-world’ and official CO2 tests in the EU is quite staggering, in 2001 the difference was believed to be approximately 8%, in 2011 it was believed to be 21%.


But what defines ‘Real-world’ testing? 



Before being allowed to sell a new vehicle in the EU, a manufacturer needs to follow the Type-Approval (TA) process; this usually takes place at the premises of the manufacturer. Within these rules manufacturers can be approved for more than one vehicle (if similar model) without some vehicles being tested, which some manufacturers have used as an excuse for showing higher MPG (by up to 4%) on certain vehicles that have never been tested.


Should our CO2 Emissions and fuel economy tests be more like America?


Vehicle fuel efficiency and emission testing is conducted in the United States by the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) with transparent and tightly controlled testing.


In America all tests have to be completed under the same test circumstances (testing temperature, mandatory use of air conditioning during the test, manufacturer recommended tyre pressures in inflated or deflated tyres, same battery power percentages, etc).


Will the disappointment that consumers are facing of not achieving results similar to those expected have negative implications? Will consumers begin to disregard this information as useless?


The ASA did not uphold the Audi A3 complaint as the MPG quoted referred to the EU testing procedure, but the ruling could potentially open the floodgates for further complaints regarding manufacturers fuel economy figures  - watch this space.



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