Do car commercials greenwash?

Image Gallery: Hybrid Cars This advertisement connects the car to nature, shaping it like a bug. Is this greenwashing? See pictures of hybrid cars.
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You've probably seen it lots of times on television -- a commercial shows a sleek, new car driving down windy, mountainside roads, and a narrator lists all the environmentally friendly aspects of the vehicle. The company will argue that it's the greenest car out there, and that they have the best ideas for a sustainable auto industry. You're distracted by all these promises of high gas mileage and comfortable interiors -- and look, it's affordable! Before you know it, the car has reached the top of the mountain, which is actually a bright, sunny field -- and look, even the surrounding wildlife likes it! This car is one with the Earth, in complete harmony with its environment.

Cars and light trucks in the United States alone cause about five percent of the world's total carbon emissions, one of the major causes of global warming and dramatic climate change. As awareness spreads and activist groups campaign against poor industry standards, car companies have taken notice. Many have taken steps to inform the public that they know what's going on -- you might notice a lot more TV commercials, Web sites and print ads dedicated to green aspects.

These ads might be slickly produced, with pleasant colors, soothing music and reassuring announcers, but are they the real deal? Some people have seen these commercials and compared them with a car's actual performances or a company's actual stance on issues, and the two don't always add up. Are car companies greenwashing the public just to cash in on a recent trend? Do they commit any of the six sins of greenwashing?