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Tesla Motors Sues BBC’s Top Gear for Libel Over Road Test

Electric-car manufacturer Tesla Motors has sued the BBC television program Top Gear for "libel and malicious falsehood", claiming that a 2008 review of the Tesla Roadster (which can be seen here) was unfairly biased against the electric sports car. The review, which first aired in the U.K. on December 14, 2008, asserted that the Roadster could only travel 55 miles per charge, and that the car couldn't be tested because its braking system failed.

Tesla's primary complaint is that Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson told viewers that Roadster could only travel 55 miles per charge, before showing the car being pushed by assistants to imply the car had drained its batteries. Tesla claims the car's range is roughly 245 miles, and that data logged by the test cars showed the battery was never more than 75 percent discharged during Top Gear's testing. The company feels this may have discouraged potential customers from buying a Tesla.

A second Tesla Roadster had been provided to Top Gear, but it wasn't driven because Clarkson claimed the braking system had failed. Tesla, however, says the braking system was fully functional, but that the vacuum pump for the brake-assist system was broken -- the brakes would still work, but they would require much more pedal effort. Finally, Tesla contends that the review's concluding sentence, "It's just a shame that, in the real world, it [the Tesla Roadster] doesn't work" was unfair and tarnished the car's reputation.

Tesla is suing now, over two years after the original episode aired, because the Top Gear episode has been rebroadcast around the world, online, and in DVDs of the show. Tesla claims this "disinformation campaign" has hurt the Roadster's image and popularity.

The company's goal with the lawsuit is not compensation -- Tesla doesn't expect to receive more than £100,000, about $141,000, from the courts -- but to force "Top Gear to stop rebroadcasting this malicious episode and to correct the record."

Source: Tesla