In Tesla vs. Top Gear, car maker loses libel case

A UK high court today ruled that it would not uphold the libel claims brought against the BBC TV show TopGear by car maker 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 involving cars.

The two outfits have been in a standoff since earlier this year when Telsa sued for libel and malicious falsehood over a 2008 episode of the wildly popular motoring show that featured host Jeremy Clarkson test driving electric car maker Tesla‘s roadster. The company contends that Clarkson falsely claimed the car ran out of charge after 55 miles and the brakes were not functional.

The court threw out the libel case on the basis that the performance of the Roadster on the Top Gear racing track could not be reasonably compared to the open road. Mr Justice Tugendhat said, “There is a contrast between the style of driving and the nature of the track as compared with the conditions on a public road are so great that no reasonable person could understand that the performance on the [Top Gear] track is capable of a direct comparison with a public road.” The malicious falsehood case, in which Tesla says that Top Gear made five other false statements about the Roadster, continues.

VentureBeat predicted that the case, which GreentechMedia described as “the best libel suit in Britain since Oscar Wilde and the Marquis of Queensbury went at it”, would not turn out well for Telsa. TopGear’s 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 womenMexicans and Robin Reliant owners. Expecting TopGear’s presenters to give an objective review of an electric car is like expecting Charlie Sheen to spend a quiet night playing scrabble.

However, if you watch the segment in full, you will see that Clarkson was, in many ways, surprisingly enthusiastic about the Tesla. TopGear is about entertainment, not serious motoring advice. By taking this case, Tesla appeared earnest and humorless — in other words, exactly what TopGear accuses EV advocates of being, and precisely the image that Telsa has done so much to change.

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