Automakers Out to Luntz?

In conjunction with a lawsuit against California and lobbying efforts against Washington, an alliance of major automakers — Toyota, General Motors, Ford, Daimler Chrysler, Mazda, BMW, Mitsubishi, Porsche, and Volkswagon — are fighting back against the adoption of California auto emission standards with an advertising campaign that redefines the phrase “virtually emission-free.” Picturing a young toddler strapped into a carseat and happily sucking on a popsicle, the ad’s caption states, “Your car may never be spotless but it’s 99 percent cleaner than you think. Autos manufactured today are virtually emission-free.”

The advertisement “ignore[s] greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide as an automotive emission” and takes advantage of a convenient nuance. Though automotive emissions of greenhouse gases have been on the rise, the Bush administration reversed previous policy and has stopped considering greenhouse gases to be pollutants, a decision that is now being fought out in court.

Even if one were to use the automakers’ lenient definition of “cleaner,” their own spokeswoman admitted, “the statement could not be broadly applied to all new cars and trucks until new regulations of such emissions take effect by the end of the decade.” Furthermore, late last year Toyota’s president directly linked the auto industry to environmental concerns about emissions: “If automakers don’t reduce smog-forming emissions, greenhouse gases and the need for petroleum, I believe we won’t be in business.”

Rightfully so, the nonpartisan Union of Concerned Scientists has taken the automakers to task for their deception; its counter advertisement is especially good. When it comes to environmental issues, the auto industry is just following the lead of the Bush administration: if reality doesn’t work for you, create your own.