With Star Wars back in the news, thanks to the recent Disney purchase of Lucasfilm Ltd., it looks like the intergalactic legend will continue somewhere in a galaxy far, far away. Somewhat closer to home, the Star Wars iconography has been effectively used by environmental campaigners Greenpeace to launch their own assault on the lack of eco-credentials of many car manufacturers, with Volkswagen firmly in its sights.
What could be called the “Car Wars” saga began as a Superbowl ad in 2011. VW premiered a Star Wars themed commercial for the Passat packed with cute kids in the costumes of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, C3P0, et al. Greenpeace was, at the time, involved in campaigning against VW’s continued opposition to proposed changes to CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulations in the States and to European laws seeking to impose stricter limits on the C02 emissions of new vehicles. Greenpeace claims that VW and other car manufacturers are lobbying against worldwide initiatives to reduce emissions and, whilst boasting of their latest eco concept cars, are failing to bring truly accessible greener cars to market.
In response to the ad, Greenpeace sent Imperial Stormtroopers to Belgium, where they greeted representatives from the car industry arriving at a meeting of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. The headline-grabbing implication was that there was a dark agenda behind the eco credentials of the industry and that its financial muscle was being used to place a stranglehold on these initiatives. Greenpeace used the power of the viral video to call attention to their claims in a spoof-remake of the Passat commercial in which the Rebel Alliance is recast as environmental protestors and the VW headquarters is re-imagined as the Death Star.
All this was, of course, to the embarrassment of Volkswagen, who must be left wishing they had never approved that ad creative in the first place.
The launch of the new Golf across Europe has seen Greenpeace stepping up its ongoing campaign against VW in the past three months. In September, Greenpeace staged a faux launch of a Golf 7 “Jedi” edition that carries the spurious claims of having a hybrid diesel that does 315 miles per gallon and emits 75% less CO2 emissions than your average car. The invitation to sign up for more information puts those who register onto the Greenpeace mailing list, where more in-depth information is offered about the Greenpeace campaign against Volkswagen.
High profile protests in Paris, Berlin and Austria have targeted VW’s official launches with the unveiling of protest banners over VW showpiece stands and the continued use of the Star Wars iconography. At the Austrian launch of the new Golf, the VW logo was shrouded in fog, which Greenpeace spokesperson Herwig Shuster explained stood metaphorically for “the smoke screens of the VW group in its presentations … and the huge CO2 plume of the future Golf fleet.”
Backing its latest viral video, in which a journalist arriving at VW to present an award for its green achievements is shocked to find the deathly Darth Vader at the helm, the Greenpeace blog suggests that behind the green facade of car manufacturers like VW lies a blacker, more sinister agenda. It recently suggested, “for years VW has failed to put its money where its mouth is and commercially produce cars that are both cheap to run and emit far less CO2 than the rest of the market. Instead, VW has added these features to its ‘concept’ cars, producing a new one almost every year but never bringing it to market.”
This continues the argument that Greenpeace has been using since the Car Wars saga began. Greenpeace points out that for every “greener” vehicle sold by VW, the company sells many more vehicles that emit much more C02. In addition, Greenpeace claims that there appears to be a disproportionate price markup for VW’s “green” cars — far beyond the cost of the technology needed to produce them.
The Greenpeace UK blog highlighted in October how VW still seems to be oiling the wheels of the EU. The blog reported the news that a letter leaked to the German press has revealed that EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger offered assurances to VW CEO Martin Winterkorn that he shouldn’t worry about binding CO2 limits for cars after 2020. The Greenpeace blog goes on to refer to its report that details exactly how VW could introduce fuel-efficient technology as standard in new vehicles but refuses to do so.
With the promise of new installments of Star Wars in the near future, and no let-up in the rhetoric or efforts of Greenpeace, it looks like the car industry will continue to feel the campaigning force of Greenpeace for some time yet.
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About the author
Matthew Fidge writes about the car industry’s responses to environmental challenges and monitors the latest eco car arrivals for West London Motor Group’s chain of London car dealerships.