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Figures show 200% marketing boost behind record sales of the largest SUVs, Utes and American-style trucks.

A decade of increasing advertising for gas-guzzlers is fuelling a sales boom with dire consequences, according to a report commissioned by climate advocacy group, Comms Declare.

Advertising of SUVs and Light Commercial vehicles jumped in the last decade, coinciding with an increase in sales (24% of the market in 2011 compared to 77% in 2021).

Over the same period, passenger car advertising plunged, with sales also down (55% to 19% of the market)*. 

Belinda Noble, Comms Declare founder said: “Carmakers are taking us for a ride, pushing sales of the largest, most profitable vehicles while ignoring the health, safety and climate impacts. Restricting advertising of these supersized gas guzzlers would help to reverse this dangerous trend. 

“What the advertising data shows is that the popularity of SUVs and Utes in Australia is not a mistake – it’s been deliberately created with tens of millions of dollars of advertising and sponsorships over 10 years.”

The report, ‘RAMMED – the advertising that’s killing our climate goals’, also found that:

  • The CO2 impact of Toyota’s digital advertising is the largest of all brands, followed by Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai
  • RAM’s advertising and sponsorships helped increase sales by 50% in 2022, despite having one of the most polluting cars on the market.
  • Toyota’s sponsorship of National Tree Day and Ford’s sponsorship of a ‘sustainable living’ series of The Block are tantamount to greenwashing.
  • The annual digital spend on SUVs has shot up sevenfold from $7.8 million in 2010 to $51.5 million in 2022. 
  • Annual digital spend on Light Commercial Vehicles increased 24 fold from $1.6m in 2010 to $38.3m in 2022.

Passenger cars and light commercial vehicles contribute 60% of Australia’s transport emissions and over 10% of Australia’s total emissions.

The IPCC and the IEA have both found decreasing demand for high emissions products is an important part of any plan for net zero, along with tax, law and infrastructure changes.

Restrictions could be based on vehicle weight or tailgate emissions. For example, France taxes vehicles weighing above 1800 kg. The Australian Government’s Green Vehicle Guide categorises cars with emissions above 160gCO2/k as the ‘worst’ performers.

Kate Wylie, Executive Director, Doctors for the Environment says, “Larger cars mean worse air pollution, but they are also far more dangerous to other road users, cyclists and pedestrians, and especially to small children.

Because they are a health hazard, they should carry a health warning. Instead, they are promoted as a lifestyle.

“Vehicle-related pollution contributes to premature deaths-up to 11,000 a year are attributed to air pollution from transport- and  illnesses ranging from heart disease and asthma.

“Global-heating carbon dioxide emissions from large SUVs are more than double those of many small sedans. High emitting vehicles add more to climate change and are dumped on Australia because, unlike most of the world, we have no fuel efficiency standard which would compel manufacturers to advertise vehicles with lower emissions. We can all help by walking, cycling and using public transport.”

Robin Smit, founder and director at Transport Energy/Emission Research (TER) and an Adjunct Associate Professor at University of Technology Sydney says, “If Australians had driven only small cars in 2019 for personal use, total road transport emissions would have been about 15% lower.

“The reduction in emissions from simply shifting to smaller cars is similar to emissions from domestic aviation and domestic shipping combined. Importantly, lightweighting cuts emissions for all kinds of vehicles.”

Dr Chris Jones, President of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association, says that Australia’s penchant for large SUVs and dual-cabs is only making our decarbonisation goals harder, and relentless advertising of such vehicles has been, unfortunately, very successful.

“Not only must we ensure the supply of zero-emission vehicles is improved through an emissions standard on new vehicles, we really need to cost roads and traffic appropriately. The AEVA advocates for a universal, mass-multiplied road user charge which doesn’t discriminate on energy source. Lighter vehicles would cost less to operate than heavier vehicles, and hopefully drive a shift back towards more appropriately sized vehicles.” 

> Read the report

*figures 24% and 55% corrected after publishing