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FTC Acknowledges Receiving 22,000 Complaints

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WASHINGTON ( -- More than 22,000 consumers have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate car manufacturers' ad claims that today's cars are "virtually emission-free," according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Photo: AP
The scientist group charges that auto industry ads are deceptive.

FTC confirmation
An FTC spokesman confirmed the receipt of that many complaints and said the agency is currently reviewing them.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit group comprised of about 100,000 scientists and citizens, is asking consumers on its Web site to send an e-mail to the FTC requesting the agency "immediately open a false advertising investigation" against the advertising claims made by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Aimed at lawmakers
The alliance, an auto industry lobbying group, has been running ads making the "virtually emission-free" claim since January in Washington publications and on radio. The ads are aimed at the capital's lawmakers.

The auto alliance, made up of carmakers that include Detroit's Big Three -- Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler -- and foreign automakers BMW and Toyota, is running the campaign to tout industry's progress in accomplishing the goal of making cleaner cars.

Messy toddler, clean car
The ads feature slice-of-life vignettes; one shows a happy toddler in a car seat covered with the remains of a melted ice-cream pop to make the point about cleaner cars.

"Autos manufactured today are virtually emission-free," the ad's copy read. "And that's a dramatic improvement from 30 years ago. So if you want to know what it really means to drive a clean car, look under the hood of every new car and light truck we make."

The industry's ads come as sales of gas-and-electric-powered cars known as hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius and the Ford Escape Hybrid, that have even lower fuel emissions continue to grow, bringing calls for other carmakers to do the same.

Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists has challenged the alliance's ad claims with a countercampaign that says the automakers are being deceptive. Its ad also features a toddler in a car seat, but this one is holding a cigarette.

"If today’s cars are 'virtually emission-free' than so is this cigarette," the ad copy says. "Automakers are trying to deceive you on vehicle pollution claiming that autos manufactured today are 'virtually emission-free.' Seems they are ignoring the fact that new vehicles actually produce more global warming than they did 20 years ago."

Eron Shosteck, director of communications for the alliance, said its ad effort is "truthful advertising based on the U.S. government’s own data.

Smog-forming chemicals
"Today’s vehicle by measurements of nitrogens of oxides and hydrocarbons emit 99% fewer of the smog-forming chemicals than those in the 1960s so they are 99% cleaner than [those made] in the 1960s," he said.

The USC conceded that the number of emissions per car is down, but it said there are many more cars on the road today than in the 1960s creating plenty of emissions.

"They are not taking into account that there are twice as many cars. Cars have gotten cleaner, though [automakers] have resisted [the more stringent emissions controls] tooth and nail that they are now trying to take credit for, but even if every single auto on the road were to meet 2009 standards, there is still half a million tons of emissions," said Scott Nathanson, the USC's national field organizer.

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