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Public Citizen exposes Toyota’s greenwashing at NYC International Auto Show

By Erika Thi Patterson

While global automakers shined their cars in preparation for the first public day of the New York City International Auto Show, Public Citizen stole the spotlight by staging a direct action, putting Toyota on notice for refusing to commit to zero-emission vehicles and failing to eliminate environmental and human rights abuses from its supply chain. Here is a first-hand account.

As company representatives attempted to draw auto show attendees to Toyota’s exhibit, Public Citizen and allies unveiled two banners in front of a spread of fossil-fuel powered-Prius models and led a chant that echoed throughout the convention center: “Hey Toyota, polluting cars have got to go!” The action unfolded in front of Toyota’s “Beyond Zero” exhibit–a marketing campaign that deceives consumers by advertising its gasoline-powered cars as electric vehicles, including relabeling several of its cars with internal combustion engines as types of “electric vehicles” and representing vehicles that run on fossil fuels as “electric” or “electrified.”

Demand that Toyota do more to protect communities, workers, and our planet!

Curious passersby snapped photos of the banners and accepted flyers detailing Toyota’s failures. Eventually, security ordered us to leave. We complied and began marching towards the exit but continued displaying the banners and filling the halls with our chant.

Upon exiting the convention center, we then fastened the banners to a zero-emissions bicycle platform that circled the auto show convention center. The cyclists distributed literature on Toyota’s climate lobbying and its abysmal record on protecting the climate and human rights across its supply chain.

Cyclists circled the auto show convention center displaying our banners calling out Toyota.

Our message to auto show attendees was clear: despite Toyota’s marketing schemes, its products are nowhere close to zero emissions. The auto giant continues to resist transitioning to electric vehicles and has made zero progress towards decarbonizing its steel and aluminum supply chains. Toyota has also failed to make progress towards eliminating supply chain threats to workers and Indigenous People or their lands.

Photo by Erik McGregor

The actions came days after Public Citizen, along with 53 other consumer protection, health, and environmental groups, sent an open letter to Toyota CEO Koji Sato, shaming him for making virtually no progress towards leading the company toward a fossil-free future or remaking its supply chains to be more equitable and sustainable. Koji Sato’s legacy during his first year as CEO of Toyota is marred by ramping up combustion engine vehicle production, the revelation of cheating on safety testing in Toyota subsidiaries, misleading marketing of gas-powered hybrids as electric vehicles, failing to decarbonize its aluminum and steel supply chains, and lobbying against climate policies globally.

The actions at the New York International Auto Show are part of an escalating campaign by Public Citizen and allies at auto shows in major cities across the globe intended to push Toyota and the auto industry overall to move rapidly toward electrification and equitable, sustainable, and fossil-free supply chains.

Join us in taking action–urge Toyota to clean up its act today!