TopGear is a wildly popular motoring show made by the BBC. An episode in 2008 showed the show’s host Jeremy Clarkson test driving electric car maker Tesla‘s roadster.
Telsa is now sueing the BBC for libel and malicious falsehood over this episode, which you can see below. The company claims that Clarkson falsely claimed that the car ran out of charge after 55 miles and the brakes were not functional. The BBC says that it will be “vigorously defending” the claims.
GreentechMedia describes the case as “the best libel suit in Britain since Oscar Wilde and the Marquis of Queensbury went at it.” Although extremely entertaining for the rest of us, I fear that this case may not turn out well for Telsa.
For those of you not familiar with TopGear, it features a trio of badly dressed men of a certain age engaged in a series of ever more zany challenges which incidentally involve cars. A typical episode has the presenters racing across the arctic or through New York city without a GPS system.
The presenters are annoying, opinionated, funny, love supercars and hate hybrids (they are not called “petrolheads” for nothing). They have been in trouble before for offending women, Mexicans and Robin Reliant owners. Expecting Jeremy Clarkson to give an objective review of an electric car is like expecting Charlie Sheen to spend a quiet night in playing scrabble.
It’s easy to understand why Telsa is upset about what they see as false claims by TopGear in an episode which continues to air. However, if you watch the segment in full you can see that Clarkson was, in many ways, surprisingly enthusiastic about the Tesla. On the range claims, Telsa says “The Roadster has been certified under UN ECE R101, the EU regulation for measuring electric vehicle range, at 211 miles. Of course, a car driven aggressively will get reduced mileage as Top Gear found.” Racing a Lotus Elise around a track probably qualifies as aggressive.
TopGear is about entertainment, not serious motoring advice. I watch it and I drive a bike. By taking this case, Tesla may end up being seen as earnest and humourless, i.e. exactly what TopGear accuses EV (electrical vehicle) advocates of being, and exactly the image Telsa is trying to change.