Automakers launch ad campaign claiming cars are squeaky clean

Fed up with negative publicity, automakers are making their vehicles virtually emission-free. Oh, wait, did we say “making”? We meant “calling.” The “virtually emission-free” claim is at the heart of a new print ad campaign targeted at federal legislators by a coalition of automakers including Ford, Toyota, and General Motors. There’s a grain of truth behind the campaign: Some car models generate roughly 99 percent fewer smog-forming emissions than their counterparts in the pre-regulation 1960s. But critics, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, point out several problems. For one, most automakers have acknowledged that smog remains a serious public-health problem that requires further efforts on their part. For another, the campaign disregards emissions not classified as pollutants by the U.S. EPA — in other words, carbon dioxide. But again, automakers themselves have acknowledged that greenhouse gases like CO2 are causing climate change and need to be cut. The UCS has mounted a counter-campaign that it says has generated 20,000 complaints to the Federal Trade Commission about the coalition’s claims.