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Lexus Ad Not Only Sneers At Plug-Ins, But Gets Charging Wrong

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Frame from Lexus video criticizing electric car, May 2014

Frame from Lexus video criticizing electric car, May 2014

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Few things make electric-car advocates as cranky as criticism of their vehicles.

But when the criticism is factually wrong, and comes from a carmaker that has resolutely said it doesn't think plug-in electric cars are "ready for prime time," the howling gets harsher.

Perhaps Toyota's Lexus luxury brand, then, ought to have been a little more careful in a recent two-and-a-half-minute video that's front and center on its main Lexus Hybrid website.

Frame from Lexus video criticizing electric car, May 2014

Frame from Lexus video criticizing electric car, May 2014

Enlarge Photo

It starts, "Some advances in alt-fuel technology actually hold you back."

As ChargedEVs points out, the video shows "an image of a public charger ... accompanied by the words 'Reserved for someone with four hours to kill'."

There's a shot of someone plugging a charger into the front of a car that's very clearly a Nissan Leaf electric car, and a countdown clock that starts at 4:00:00 and ticks off the seconds.

In contrast, the usual Lexus beauty shots of shiny new cars carry the slogan “No charging means more driving.”

The problem is that the public charger Lexus used is a DC fast charger, apparently from Aerovironment, which typically takes just 20 to 30 minutes to recharge an electric car's battery pack to 80 percent of capacity.

At the bottom of the Nissan Leaf image is a small line of type that reads, "Charge time represents the average time to charge from empty to full using typically available 240-Volt commercial charging stations."

2014 Lexus CT 200h

2014 Lexus CT 200h

Enlarge Photo

We don't know if that line was in the ad from the start, or whether it was added after the first articles appeared.

So, OK, perhaps this was just the case of a production assistant grabbing the first "electric car charging station" image that he or she found.

But we're amused to note that Lexus marshals reams of facts and figures to support its claims that indeed its luxury hybrid vehicles have saved gasoline and reduced emissions.

Lexus cars, the ad notes, represent 85 percent of all luxury hybrids, and those hybrids have covered more than 21 billion road miles and saved nearly 300 million gallons of gasoline while doing so.

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The ad winds up noting that Lexus (Toyota) hybrid technology is "designed to optimize any future power source," with "Hydrogen" as the first word that floats onto the screen, followed by "Electricity" and then "Biofuels."

Graphics from Lexus video criticizing electric car, May 2014 [collated by ChargedEVs.com]

Graphics from Lexus video criticizing electric car, May 2014 [collated by ChargedEVs.com]

Enlarge Photo

And to underscore its point, the tagline is: "Lexus Hybrid Drive - The Proven Way Forward."

The ad implies, not too subtly, that plug-in electric cars are inconvenient, unproven, and the wrong choice for luxury buyers.

Given strong sales of the Tesla Model S luxury electric car, and even the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid plug-in hybrid, in leading markets like Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and the Greater New York area, Lexus may well feel threatened.

It also faces a raft of new and notably more fuel-efficient competitors from the German luxury makes--Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz--rapidly spreading diesel-engine options though their lineups.

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A recent comparison of the Mercedes-Benz E 250 BlueTEC diesel to a Toyota Prius hybrid found that the mid-size German luxury sedan did better on highway fuel efficiency than the Prius, though the two cars are quite different.

Lexus has no diesel vehicles in its North American or European lineups.

Parody image by Mark Lyon in response to Lexus video criticizing electric car, May 2014

Parody image by Mark Lyon in response to Lexus video criticizing electric car, May 2014

Enlarge Photo

And its parent company Toyota has made it very clear that it sees hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles as the only appropriate solution for zero-emission transportation, and is building its Toyota RAV4 EV battery-electric crossover solely to comply with California mandates.

One electric-car advocate suggests that the Lexus "Reserved For People With Four Hours To Kill" should really be, "Reserved For People With A Planet To Kill."

While that kind of over-the-top rhetoric sometimes gets electric-car advocates dismissed in serious auto-industry discussions, the sentiment nonetheless made us chuckle.

But the ad made us consider that perhaps Lexus is more worried about losing its market position than we'd realized.

Food for thought.

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