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Blurry Lines Between Hybrids and EVs at Toyota Trigger FTC Complaint Alleging Misleading Marking

Letters to eight state’s AGs urge investigation and enforcement action for misleading advertising against global automaker

WASHINGTON – Public Citizen today filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor North America are misleading consumers in marketing the company’s gasoline-powered hybrid cars as electric vehicles (EVs). 

In addition to the complaint with the FTC, Public Citizen called on the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island, to investigate and take enforcement action against the company for its misleading marketing practices. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EVs have a battery instead of a gasoline tank, and an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine, and according to a recent Data for Progress poll, 62% of likely voters understand the term “electric vehicles” or “EVs” to mean a vehicle that does not have an internal combustion engine and instead operates entirely on electricity. Yet Toyota is marketing hybrid cars that run entirely on gasoline as “EVs,” according to the complaint. 

Through the company’s “Beyond Zero,” “Electrified Diversified,” and “To Each Their Own Electric” marketing campaigns, Toyota is mendaciously relabeling a large number of its cars with internal combustion engines “EVs” and representing vehicles that run on fossil fuels as “electric” and “electrified.”

“With the rapid growth of EVs, Toyota has begun to pretend many of its gasoline-powered cars are electric vehicles,” said Aaron Regunberg, senior policy counsel with Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “Toyota’s deceptive practices are harming consumers, making it difficult for them to decipher the difference between hybrids and EVs. If manufacturers categorize cars that run primarily or entirely on fossil fuels as ‘electric’ or ‘EVs,’ then what do those words even mean?”

In its marketing materials, Toyota claims to offer more “electrified” models than any other brand. Yet Toyota offers fewer EVs than almost any competing automaker. Collectively, Toyota and Lexus offered 21 models under the company’s “electrified” label in 2022. Just three were plug-in hybrids, and only one was a battery electric vehicle.

Toyota labels all these purportedly “electrified” vehicles “EVs,” abandoning the word “hybrid” for “Hybrid EV.” On the 5th-generation Prius, introduced in 2023, Toyota stripped the word “hybrid”—which had appeared on the car since its introduction in 1997—and replaced it with a term consumers have never seen, “HEV.” 

“Toyota spent years ignoring the growth of EVs and has put itself at risk of losing a generation of environmentally conscious customers,” said East Peterson-Trujillo, senior clean vehicles campaigner with Public Citizen’s Climate team. “For the benefit of consumers, fair competition, and a livable future, the FTC and state attorneys general should investigate Toyota for these misleading acts, and the FTC should update its policy guidance to clarify that deceptive marketing like Toyota’s is not permissible.”

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