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Toyota faces 'greenwashing' claims over car emissions

Australia's leading car maker Toyota could face fines of up to $50 million after an environmental group claimed the company was misleading consumers about pollution from its vehicles and its plans to cut emissions.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific made the claims about Toyota in a 25-page complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on Friday, outlining seven allegations about the car brand.

The complaint came one day after the commission announced plans to crack down on "greenwashing," or companies making false statements about environmental practices, after an online sweep found more than half of businesses analysed had made questionable sustainability claims.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific Electrify campaign director Lindsay Soutar said the environmental group filed the complaint against Toyota over concerns it was not taking quick action to deliver zero-emission cars and was lobbying against a transition to electric vehicles.

"Toyota Motor Corporation makes claims in its advertising that give the false impression the company is leading the transition to clean cars, but the truth is Toyota is not leading the transition but is acting globally to block the take-up of electric vehicles," she said.

"We believe Toyota Motor Corporation's advertising is misleading Australian consumers by understating its cars' emissions and overstating its commitment to clean transport."

But a Toyota spokesman denied Greenpeace's claims and pointed to the company's release of hybrid electric vehicles as proof of its plans to cut transport pollution.

"Toyota Australia has a long track record in helping customers reduce their vehicle emissions, including through the supply of over 315,000 hybrid electric vehicles and investment in reduced tailpipe emissions vehicles and carbon-neutral technologies," he said.

"We are committed to achieving a sustainable future and reject any claims to the contrary."

In Greenpeace's complaint, filed by the Environmental Defenders Office, the group alleges Toyota's plan to reach net-zero by 2050 are misleading because the company has "no concrete plans" to achieve it and had few emission-reduction targets validated by industry groups.

The complaint also alleges Toyota was not seeking "a rapid transition to eco-friendly cars", its Mirai hydrogen vehicles should not be be classed as "low-emission vehicles" and the company's hybrid cars were not "self-charging" as it had advertised but powered by petrol.

A similar claim was banned in Norway in 2020 after its consumer authority deemed the ad misleading.

The Greenpeace complaint also alleged Toyota had been "actively lobbying against new emissions standards," referencing a 2021 report from InfluenceMap that named the company as the world's third most aggressive "anti-climate lobbyist".

If the ACCC finds Toyota has misled Australians, the authority could ban specific advertising, issue fines or take the company to court.

Court-ordered penalties for corporations misleading consumers can be as high as $50 million or 30 per cent of the company's turnover during the breach period.

Toyota was the top-selling car brand in Australia last year, representing more than 21 per cent of all new vehicle sales, and claimed the title of best-selling vehicle for its Hi-Lux model.