January 22, 2021

sockpuppet

Aston Martin is at the centre of a climate lobbying controversy after a study co-commissioned by the company that cast doubt on the green credentials of electric vehicles was found to have been attributed to a PR company registered to the wife of a director at the luxury carmaker.



a blue car parked in a parking lot: Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Reuters


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Reuters

The study, which has since been widely debunked by experts, was presented as “groundbreaking” third-party research and appeared to show that electric cars would have to travel as far as 50,000 miles before matching the carbon footprint of a petrol model.

Thursday’s report was commissioned by companies including Aston Martin, Bosch, Honda and McLaren shortly after the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, called for a ban on the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles from 2030, and presented as the work of Clarendon Communications.

But it can be revealed that the same companies that commissioned the study collaborated to write the report themselves, and the communications firm is a company registered under the name of Rebecca Stephen, who is the wife of Aston Martin’s government affairs director, James Stephen. The company was set up in February, and registered to the address of a property jointly owned by the married couple.



a blue car parked in a parking lot: Aston Martin, which co-commissioned the study, does not manufacture any electric vehicles.


© Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Reuters
Aston Martin, which co-commissioned the study, does not manufacture any electric vehicles.

The study was first reported in the Times, before the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, among other news publications, followed suit.

Rebecca Stephen, a part-time NHS nurse, told the Guardian via email that the report attributed to Clarendon was “compiled” by the same companies that commissioned the study. She added that Clarendon was contracted by Bosch “to provide public affairs and stakeholder support” so its logo and contact details appear on the back of the report “for this purpose”.

A spokeswoman for Bosch said the company fully supports the report “which has been drawn from independent, referenced data”, and called for “greater transparency” on the carbon footprint of vehicles.

Concerns over the report were first raised by Michael Liebreich, the founder of Bloomberg’s clean energy research arm BNEF, in a Twitter thread which has become known within the industry as “Astongate”.

“We need to have a proper discussion about how we are going to get to net zero,” he said. “What we can’t have is the auto industry and fossil fuel incumbents twisting the discussion to their own advantage using sockpuppet PR companies and underhand tactics. The time for that is over.”

Independent experts including Auke Hoekstra, an authority on the emissions of electric vehicles (EVs), have refuted the findings of the report and warned that the data presented may have overstated the carbon footprint of EVs threefold by failing to account for a number of factors within the data.

Francis Ingham, the director general of the Public Relations and Communications Association, said: “We have a duty to fight misinformation, not purvey it. PR agencies should be fully transparent about who they represent. Failure to disclose

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