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Published on March 30th, 2011 | by Christopher DeMorro

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Tesla Motors Sues BBC Over Top Gear Review

In December of 2008, the BBC aired an episode where Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson got behind the wheel of a Tesla Roadster. Tesla Motors is now suing over that episode.

If you haven’t heard of Top Gear, then you are missing out on some hilarious automotive shenanigans. Of course, the Top Gear Trio have been known to stretch the truth for the sake of entertainment, and most of the time it’s just good, clean fun.

That’s not the case with the Tesla Roadster review though. Clarkson and the program showed the Tesla running out of juice after just 55 (very hard) miles, and being pushed into a garage, described its charging time as 16 hours, complained of broken brakes and an overheated the motor, resulting in both cars supposedly being unavailable for driving.

But that’s not what happened according to Tesla’s Rachel Konrad. Neither of the two Tesla’s had their charge drop below 20%, the brake problem was resolved by replacing a fuse, and most people who invested in a $100,000 roadster also invested in a home-based fast charger that can get the car back to full charge in under 4 hours. As for the overheated engine, the car merely lowered the amount of available power to keep the engine from overheating…and having plenty of video evidence of how Clarkson drives, the computer was probably doing the right thing to prevent damage to the motor.

This is so serious that Tesla even went so far as to set up a website. Tesla says they still get questions over that particular episode, and that it has spent the last two years trying to work out something with the BBC to issue some sort of correction. Tesla is “reluctantly” going to court over this issue, but I think there is a better way to solve this. Here is the lawsuit case file.

Tesla brings TWO roadsters to a neutral track right here in America, and their own crew of advisors/intermediaries yadda-yadda. Then Top Gear U.K. and Top Gear America come together and compete in a sort of scavenger hunt where they must maximize both speed, and range of two Tesla Roads. The losers have to drive something embarrassing, like say a Reliant Robin, for the next month around their home town.

I am a fan of both Tesla Motors and Top Gear, and it is really a case of semantics where Tesla, already facing an uphill battle, has gotten some pretty awful publicity with the biggest car program on the planet. Even Clarkson called himself a “volt head” after driving the spirited roadster, so why can’t these two get along a little better…and entertain me at the same time. Thoughts?

Source: Green Car Advisor

Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.


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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or esle, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.



  • http://importantmedia.org/members/joborras/ Jo Borras

    As far as I’m concerned, Top Gear is basically the baby-boomer version of MTV’s Jackass, thinly disguised as a car show. They’ve damaged the Tesla brand, and Tesla should go for the throat. Good on ‘em.

    • http://Web gbrecke

      $100 K for the CAR….

      I wonder how much the upgrade would cost to replace the fuses with breakers and did I correctly read there’s a fuse associated with brakes? It causes me to think of the ‘fly by wire’ systems in modern aircraft.. I wonder if they have fuses there?

      To drive 55 miles like an enthusiast, and to be at 20 percent battery discharge suggests the Tesla battery might have energy density enough to run the Starship Enterprise. When the Ford Festiva version comes out, I’ll buy two.

  • http://Web Harry

    I still scratch my head how Top Gear can be a number 1 car programme. The average view can even afford the majority of cars featured. It might be entertaining, but if a realistic and informative show about automobiles it is not. Fifth Gear and may shows on the other provide informative and accurate reviews. Clarkson … an American-bashing, popus ass, or a gearhead literary genius?

    Go look at his review of the Chevy Corvette. It isn’t much better than there “review” of the Telsa. Accurate or BS?

    As a Telsa shareholder, I believe Telsa has taken it too lightly.

    • http://gas2.org Jo Borras

      Harry, it’s the number 1 car show PRECISELY BECAUSE the average viewer cannot afford the majority of cars featured – just like Playboy is popular because most of the women found on its pages wouldn’t give the average reader (reader?) the time of day and just like “Top Gun” was popular because the average viewer would never have the opportunity in their own life to realize that “Maverick” would have been court-marshalled by the end of the first act.

      That said: you’re spot-on about Clarkson. The only guy on that show worth watching is May, and only because you can see the guy’s sincere hatred for Clarkson in every scene … which, I’ll admit, has entertained me a few times.

  • http://Web Cherie

    Top Gear is a great show and even though they do occasionally orchestrate events for dramatic storytelling in their “challenges” but the action shown in the test drives is usually for real.

    I think Tesla has the wrong idea about how to supply a car for this kind of show. There is no guarantee of what will be said, it is not a paid advertisement. What happens in reality is put on the air and no automaker has control over that.

    The Teslas breaking down was a huge disappointment after *years* of hype online. Top Gear just represented it as it happened. TG would not be nearly as popular if they could not be honest about opinions when things really don’t work and I think we need more honesty in shows like that.

    In the U.S., showing the reality of cars like that is a policy that is unheard of, advertisers are very uncomfortable with the unpredictability of their products being pushed to the limits on TV.

    It doesn’t surprise me at all that the corporate cop-out is to throw a lawsuit at it rather than fix the cars, send them over with an apology to Jeremy & the BBC and make it right.

  • http://Web Jem Thomas

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  • http://Web jem Thomas

    I agree that the Top Gear team can be a bit tabloid in their approach, but that is probably the whole premise of the programme. It is no co-incidence that Clarkson’s other job is “writing” for the Murdoch empire.

    Tesla should take it on the chin gracefully and focus on improving their product just like any other manufacturer. They are too small and young a company to be getting involved in legal shenanagins.

    Problems like this should not be left to lawyers, especially when the other side is one of the world’s largest and most respected broadcasters with floors full of lawyers to deal with this type of writ.

    Of course it could all be some cynical publicity stunt to benefit both parties. Tesla get a chance to air the truth about their technology and Top Gear increase their notoriety. Job done

  • http://gas2.org jo borras

    If you honestly believe Top Gear has very much to do with “truth” and “reality” that’s fine, but remember it is truth filtered through eyes of entitled, pompous, 50-somethings (at least) who are not racers, not engineers, not mechanics, and not paid to tell the truth. What they are paid to do is live out repressed schoolboy fantasies and attract viewers. Last time I checked, that was “lowest common denominator” stuff. Hardly worth defending.

    • http://Web gbrecke

      It’s time to recognize that top gear is no different than any other entity selling a TV program or magazine, have you watched the news lately? The top priority is to make a profit, attracting readers and viewers. Providing accurate facts and figures is popular with what percentage of the population?

      I love how all too many EV fans compare the efficiency of an electric with that of a petrol vehicle, They often start in the middle and claim the efficiency of the motor compared to the engine of a conventional car. Is there any truth in that? We need start at the fuel source and calculate how many pounds of coal, sod, Oil, or other fuel we burn per city/hiway mile traveled. Energy in VS Miles traveled, Cost of vehicle ownersip over time, etc. EV fans seem to start with a zero emission KWH coming out of the plug in…even when they know there’s a coal burning power plant over the hill from their house.

      Politicians understand human behavior. Give people a 50% subsidy to buy something, and the majority of them will never figure out they will pay out to cover the cost of the subsidy.

  • http://Web Eric Johnson

    I’ve watched the episode in question twice, and find the show (in general) entertaining. Clarkson grates at times, and I get the feeling sometimes that all three hosts are a bit bored with the whole production. But I also believe Jay Leno when he says that Top Gear is his favorite TV show (he makes an appearance in that very episode). It’s entertainment, not journalism. It’s car porn, not art.

    All that said, I find it difficult to believe that Tesla think they have a case. Clarkson says straight up that a STANDARD socket will take 16 hours to topoff the battery, and anyone who thinks 4 hours with the quick charger is a massive improvement is deluded. As is quite pointedly illustrated later in the show, a conventional fill-up (even an unconventional hydrogen fill-up) only takes a couple minutes.

    The Tesla Roadster is a SPORTS COUPE meant to be driven “spiritedly”. Even 20% left after 55 miles is piss-poor, and highlights the problems with battery storage (weight, capacity, etc).

    The Tesla is just a toy for rich people, just like the other toys they feature from Ferrari, Bugatti, etc. Clarkson quite plainly loved the car, as an idea, but correctly pointed out that it’s completely impractical (aren’t all good toys) and in many ways (handling) just not very good.

    Tesla needs to grow a pair.

  • http://Web oic

    2 years later…and now suddenly time for a lawsuit? Sounds like someone needs help paying their bills. Do they really think a TV show is hurting the sales on their $100k car lol? Guess they don’t want to try and go for another DOE loan again. Anyway, good job on building a car that doesn’t appeal to the majority of buyers in it’s price bracket. Hell if I was buying a $100k car, gas prices would be the least of my worries hah.

  • http://Web JMP

    The Top Gear guys are a bunch of idiots anyway

  • Bobo Jones

    I’m with Top Gear. Any company, heck any person, who decides to drop a $100K on a car that needs 4 hrs for a charge, has more money than sense.
    I’m also with Rush Limbaugh who said there’s no battery in the world that can get a 747 off the ground.
    The market is deciding on the electric vehicles. They’re flopping. And no amount of government spending, or Obama Dictate, will make the public want to buy one.

  • johnrysf

    So, finally, two years after this article, the case was over. Tesla lost. Twice.

    Wow. Top Gear is great fun when their antics amplify some attribute of a car. When they go over the top (so to speak), and it really isn’t about the car, their shtick sometimes gets silly and boring. IMHO. The guys get busy being oh so full of themselves and oh so funny with each other that the car is left out, or, worse, is portrayed as a caricature of itself (their subject IS motor vehicles, right?).

    I just saw this story. To me, a senior citizen gear-head, it isn’t funny. In a rather transparent attempt to unfairly denigrate the Roadster as not ready for the real world, Top Gear intentionally misrepresented the product. Ha ha, that’s libel. People often sue over such stuff.

    The court decision said that no reasonable person would fail to realize that range at the track would be less than on the street. OK, but how about showing us that the car really has a 245-mile range on the road? Nah, then the Roadster might possibly look like a reasonable proposition.

    The court seemed to forget the falsified items: (1) The 2 cars did NOT break down, (2) did NOT need to be pushed (they portrayed it as a regularly occurring problem – now THAT’S injury), (3) the brakes still WORKED without power assist (and replacing a blown fuse is SOP in a road test review), and (4) the car takes 3.5 hours to charge, not 16. If I saw the show when originally aired, I would have quickly concluded that the Roadster was too flawed to consider as a regular driver, and certainly not worth $100K plus. That would have been wrong, of course, as ~2,600 very happy owners have since proven.

    Mr. Musk could have let this go, but, hey, there was a struggling company at stake. Musk is/was a whiny a**hole? Like him or not, he had to put out some kind of rebuttal. And gotta’ say, both Top Gear and the court were wrong. Gosh, fellow ICE lovers, how could that happen? Please see my last two paragraphs below.

    ps: If you haven’t read it, you might read “Top Gear Responds to Tesla’s Lawsuit”, a 4/6/11 article in which Andy Wilman, Top Gear’s executive producer, discusses Tesla Motors’ lawsuit. Mr. Wilman, after he whines that Tesla isn’t being nice, is disingenuous and slippery to a degree that literally made me wince. The article is at

    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2011/04/top-gear-responds-to-teslas-lawsuit/.

    Contrast this with “Elon Musk Calls Top Gear ‘Completely Phony’”, a 4/5/11 article in Wired/Autopia, at

    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2011/04/elon-musk-calls-top-gear-completely-phony/.

    IMHO, Mr. Musk is direct and clear, and his arguments ring true. Mr. Wilman wrote “At the end of the day, the Tesla performed admirably but fell short because its drawbacks outweigh its advantages. Our conclusion was based primarily on the fact that it costs three times more than the petrol sports car upon which it’s based, and it takes a long time to recharge; you can’t use it as easily as a petrol sports car for the carefree motoring journeys that are a prerequisite [sic] of sports car driving”.

    I’d say the Roadster has acquitted itself of the drawbacks mentioned, plus others fabricated in the episode. But if Top Gear wished to say this, why didn’t they drop the tricks and deception, give us facts, and just say what they really meant?

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