Territory Also in Todays Drive.com.au
Don't believe the hype
By Bob Jennings
The Sydney Morning Herald
Friday June 11 2004
Last week, Drive revealed that the two locally-made soft-roaders struggle in the Australian outback. Are the vehicles under-engineered or are their advertisements misleading? Bob Jennings reports.
Advertisements that depict vehicles conquering the great outdoors are under scrutiny following Drive's cover story last week that revealed some vehicles can't handle the conditions portrayed in their commercials.
In particular, the advertisements for Ford's Territory have come to the attention of authorities and rival brands, who stop short of accusing the company of misleading conduct.
A newspaper advertisement for the Territory claims it "gives you the ability to go off the beaten track", with the vehicle pictured against a fanciful backdrop atop a sand dune. It gives the price "from $38,990" -- the price of the two-wheel drive version.
In small type at the bottom of the ad it is pointed out that the vehicle depicted is a four-wheel-drive variant.
"This could be construed by some people as being misleading," said the deputy CEO of the Australian Consumers Association, Norm Crothers. "People could believe that 'off the beaten track' means that the vehicle could go off-road or on what are described on maps as four-wheel-drive tracks. Under the terms of the Trade Practices Act, it could bear examination." Misleading advertising can attract fines of up to $110,000 for corporations under the NSW Fair Trading Act, a spokesperson for the minister's office said.
Toyota's senior manager of marketing strategy, Peter Evans, said: "We have some concerns about the Territory ads and we are going to talk to [Ford] about it. If we don't get any action we'll take the matter further, but we'd rather approach them first rather than make an official complaint to authorities.
"The ad clearly depicts a four-wheel-drive Territory performing four-wheel-drive manoeuvres, yet the price at the end of the ad is for the two-wheel-drive model."
Evans believes there are Advertising Standards and Trade Practices issues with the advertisements. "We believe that there is a valid argument that they could be seen as misleading," Evans said.
Holden spokesman Jason Laird added: "There is legislation in place covering what is perceived to be fair and accurate representation of vehicles, and this would be a matter for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to consider."
Ford spokeswoman Louise Teesdale said there had been "absolutely no complaints from the public about Territory advertising".
"Most people are aware that Territory is a range of vehicles," she said.
In Drive's comparison test over nearly 6000km to the centre of Australia, both the Ford Territory and Holden Adventra were found to be more fragile than the ads for them suggest.
The ACCC has power to examine whether such matters are in breach of the Trade Practices Act, which has provision for penalties including jail and fines of millions of dollars. It would be up to a court to decide whether an average person would be led to believe that the vehicles were capable of the exploits depicted in the advertisements, a spokesperson for the ACCC, Lin Enright, said.
"The courts tend to be quite lenient on what they refer to as 'puffery' in this area, but if we were to receive complaints we would look at the matter further," she said, adding the same would apply to suggestions of misleading advertising regarding pricing or specifications of vehicles. Motor vehicle advertising is controlled by a Federal Chamber of Automotive Industry code of practice, which has been in effect since December 1, 2002, and is administered by the Advertising Standards Board. However, in November last year, state and territory transport ministers expressed concern at what they referred to as the failure of the code and suggested a new mandatory system of regulation for motor vehicle advertisements.
A review of the code has been carried out involving the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, state and territory road safety authorities, motoring organisations such as the NRMA, the Advertising Standards Bureau, and representatives of relevant community organisations, and is expected to be presented for approval to the Australian Transport Council on June 30.
Importantly, a draft of the code notes that the use of "disclaimers" at the end of ads "cannot in any way be used to justify the inclusion of material which otherwise does not comply with the provisions of the code".
Prices and details correct at publication date.
Possessed by FF and the Silver Devil