Honda gifted cynics a field day this week when it unveiled its new Formula One car devoid of sponsorship logos and painted like a giant map of the world.

“I commend the message but I find it a bit insincere,” said one grand prix fan on an internet forum after the Japanese giant vowed to raise awareness of the planet’s “environmental issues” with the so-called Earth Car, urging people to make donations to relevant charities.

First, some facts. A fundamental cause of the worsening environmental crisis is the pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels. An average new car emits not quite 170 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Honda’s Earth Car will emit at least 1,500 grams per km as it speeds around the 17-race calendar this year.

You won’t read that in Honda’s statement, though; neither did it announce that it would contribute to the environmental solution by scrapping its racing programme. Not even a vow to pioneer the use of biofuels in Formula One, or a pledge to install a single solar panel on the roof of its paddock motor home.

The statement read: “If just 1% of F1 viewers turned their computer off at the plug overnight, this would save 45,000 tonnes of CO2, (which is) more than three and a half times the annual carbon emissions of the entire Honda Racing F1 Team.”

So it’s my fault, then.

Driver Jenson Button, too, told reporters that he no longer leaves his TV in stand-by mode; a good habit that will spare the atmosphere of 30 kilograms of C02 over a year. Hours later, the 747 he travelled on to Bahrain for another three days of formula one testing emitted about 400,000 kg of C02.

But let’s be frank rather than facetious: Honda races not to promote environmental awareness, but to sell millions of road cars, particularly in emerging markets like China. With its fellow car brands it recently fought to kill a European Commission scheme to introduce tough carbon emission targets, and is “far from reaching its EU fuel efficiency target for new cars sold,” according to the European Federation for Transport and Environment.

Maybe Honda’s newfound declaration of guardianship should be applauded, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this is an act of charity or pure good will.

For the past seven years, it accepted an eight-figure sum annually from British American Tobacco to promote a product that according to the World Health Report in 2002 accounts for 26% of all male deaths globally.

The carmaker will not simply forgo the Lucky Strike-style millions, even though it could not find a replacement for the cigarette brand. Instead, most of Honda’s existing sponsors will now get a “license” to associate with Honda’s green image rather than a simple logo on the car. And clicking into the website, whose URL is located on the car’s rear wing, will undoubtedly direct visitors to dozens of corporate logos when it goes live on Tuesday night.

“I guess they got what they wanted,” another forum writer observed. “Attention.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey