Peugeot scraps promotional references to ‘road tax’; Fiat refuses to do likewise reader Leon Rushworth scored a coup of behalf of cyclists when he refused to take ‘no’ for an answer following a complaint to car company Peugeot, which had been using the words ‘road tax’ in a promotional campaign. Peugeot has now expunged reference to the tax abolished in 1937 thanks to Rushworth explaining that some motorists use ‘you don’t pay road tax’ to infer that cyclists have lesser rights to use roads. Peugeot had been using the antique phrase on its ‘Just Add Fuel’ campaign.

Rushworth said:

“I hope we can make a difference, as changing the wording will be a forward step changing the mindset of the people who feel that ‘road tax’ actually pays for the roads.”

He stressed he was a Peugeot customer but added “the term road tax automatically alienates your campaign from most cyclists who are fed up to the back teeth arguing with uneducated motorists.”

Peugeot Customer Advisor Edward Thomas replied:

“Whilst we do make it very clear in the terms and conditions that we are referring to road fund licence [editorial note: this also died in 1937] we have decided to undertake an audit of our marketing material, to ensure that the offer is transparent to all consumers.”

After a wait with no reply, Rushworth prodded and soon got a positive response from Sebastian Avery, another Peugeot Customer Advisor, who emailed:

“Due to demand, our Just Add Fuel offer wording has recently been changed to say ‘Car tax’, instead of ‘Road tax’.”


No such luck at Fiat. Despite running an advertising campaign featuring professional road cyclists – a campaign that was originally going to drop reference to ‘road tax’ – Fiat is adamant that nobody complains about its use of a term used to hate on cyclists (despite the complaints from iPayRoadTax and many readers).

A Fiat spokesman said:

“I have had a response from my marketing department colleagues. With regards to ‘Road Tax’ we are using the colloquial term that is most commonly referred to and is most easily understood by the majority of the general public. So far, we have received no complaints or queries as to what we mean by this term. This is, therefore, not a mistake – just every-day, easily understood, language for clarity and communication. I understand that we have said in the past that we would consider refraining from using this term. However ‘VED’ is not in normal usage (and not understood) by many people, and ‘Car/Vehicle tax’ is not clear because it is either not commonly used, or could be confused with other taxes paid on new cars.”

Fiat’s advertising campaigns don’t put ‘road tax’ in just the small-print: many of the posters, newspaper ads and online ads use the long-dead term in headlines.

And don’t think a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority will make Fiat see the errors of its ways. The ASA has a boilerplate reply to all those who complain that promotion of a tax abolished three-quarters of a century ago:

“We have assessed the ad and your complaint but consider that there are insufficient grounds for ASA intervention on this occasion…As long as the content of an ad does not breach our Code, it is really up to the advertisers what they want to put in them. In this case, although we acknowledge that the correct term is “Vehicle Excise Duty”, more commonly used phrases such as “Road Tax” are often used by advertisers to convey a message in a way that will be understood by the widest audience.

“However we will continue to monitor the public response to this ad.”

The ASA gets lots of complaints about ‘road tax’ but chooses not to correct the mistake even though the organisation’s mantra is “Legal, decent, honest and truthful.”

Yes, Vehicle Excise Duty is a mouthful but ‘car tax’ or ‘vehicle tax’ isn’t. VED is not a tax to use roads, it’s a tax on motorised vehicles. And it’s not as though the ASA doesn’t know this. In an adjudication regarding the DVLA in 2007, the ASA used the phrase “car tax” throughout.


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