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Tesla Sues BBC's Top Gear For Libel 547

Posted by samzenpus
from the release-the-stig dept.
thecarchik writes "About two years ago BBC's Top Gear aired a test drive of the then relatively new Tesla Roadster. In the particular episode, Tesla Roadsters are depicted as suffering several critical 'breakdowns' during track driving. Host Jeremy Clarkson concludes the episode by saying that in the real world the Roadster 'doesn't seem to work.' Tesla claims that the breakdowns were staged, making most of Top Gear's remarks about the Roadster untrue. Tesla also states that it can prove Top Gear's tests were falsified due to the recordings of its cars' onboard data-loggers. What's Tesla asking for in the lawsuit? Tesla simply wants Top Gear to stop rebroadcasting the particular episode and to correct the record."
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Tesla Sues BBC's Top Gear For Libel

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  • FIRST LAWSUIT! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chas (5144) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:20PM (#35673958) Homepage Journal

    This may or may not be an uphill battle for them.

    Under track conditions (with one of those jackasses pushing the pedal to the floor), yeah, the mileage on the Tesla is probably going to be atrocious.

    As for the rest, not sure who exactly takes Top Gear seriously. It's a fun show, but I don't really look at it for good car facts. Nor should anyone else.

    • by mekkab (133181)

      You mean that greyhound (top speed:45mph) didn't really beat a car?!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VM8ArZ3o8qE [youtube.com], for those who missed it.

      Don't tell that to my sweet rescued "needle nosed" hound, it'll hurt his pride!

      • Re:FIRST LAWSUIT! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Kreigaffe (765218) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:57PM (#35674264)

        an extremely narrow track covered in very loose dirt, and you don't think a car would have significant trouble getting to any speed and keeping it?

        i think the dog winning that race is a lot more likely than you believe it to be -- i'm honestly a bit impressed he didn't lose it around one of those corners

      • Completely plausible for a short race on a dirt track. Certainly, the dog would have no chance on a paved track, but the car is at a huge disadvantage on the dirt.

      • Re:FIRST LAWSUIT! (Score:5, Informative)

        by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @11:51PM (#35674600) Homepage

        The dog accelerates to top speed very quickly. Using the speed you give for the dog (45 MPH) and assuming 1 second to reach top speed, the dog could do a straight quarter mile in under 21 seconds.

        According to Mazda, an MX5 can do a straight quarter mile in just over 15 seconds.

        Now change it from a straight course to an oval. The dog is likely to get much better traction in the turns, so won't have to slow down as much as the car does. The dog slows down quicker when it needs to, and gets back up to speed quicker. Net result is the car is going to lose significantly to the dog in and around each turn.

        On the first straightaway the car may or may not be able to gain time on the dog. Since they start in the middle of the straightaway the car doesn't have a lot of time until the first turn. On the back straightaway it is room to gain time. Then coming out of the second turn it is another half-straightaway to the finish so may not be able to gain much.

        The net result is that the car is going to be slowed down more by the turns and the track conditions than the dog is. If the dog loses 40% due to turns and track conditions and the car loses 60% (both compared to what they can do in a straight quarter mile), the dog will win on the track.

    • by Hognoxious (631665) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @12:55AM (#35674882) Homepage Journal

      It's a fun show, but I don't really look at it for good car facts.

      Exactly. That would be almost as stupid as looking for tech news on slashdot.

    • Re: (Score:4, Insightful)

      by polle404 (727386) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @01:28AM (#35675004)

      Top Gear is for cars, what Slashdot is for tech.

    • Re:FIRST LAWSUIT! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mcvos (645701) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @04:54AM (#35675834)

      Sure, it's more entertainment than information, but outright lies about a car on their test track will have a very real impact on the sales by that car's manufacturer. It sounds like a valid lawsuit to me.

    • Re:FIRST LAWSUIT! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jusdisgi (617863) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @10:52AM (#35677994)

      Under track conditions (with one of those jackasses pushing the pedal to the floor), yeah, the mileage on the Tesla is probably going to be atrocious.

      That may be. But the fact remains that the car did not run out of power at any point during their testing. Yet they showed the driver saying "uh-oh" as the car apparently suddenly lost power, and then they showed people pushing it back to the hangar while explaining that it had died on them. The car they were pushing was perfectly drivable at that point, and they represented otherwise with no indication that they were faking it. Sounds like libel to me. Oh, and "you shouldn't take Top Gear seriously" is not an acceptable excuse...although I do very much hope that's the defense they use in court.

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:20PM (#35673960)
    Between all the quadrillion-dollars-demanded-lawsuits and shut-down-everything C&Ds, it's nice to see a lawsuit that simply wants a little justice. No big demands, just a "stop lying about our product" and "say sorry". It even looks like they have a good amount of evidence, unlike many recent suits on /.

    Even if they turn out to be wrong, Tesla just got a small point of favor with me for that. It's kind of sad that "not being evil" is noteworthy in a lawsuit nowadays...
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      No big demands, just a "stop lying about our product" and "say sorry"

      The lawyers for Tesla most likely don't watch Top Gear. If they did, they would know about the episode where Clarkson drove a Prius and ranted about how epically slow it was - something along the lines of "it would be useless as a milk delivery vehicle because all your milk would be bad before you reached the first house". Oddly enough, Toyota did not sue over that one.

      That said, Tesla is a US company, and Top Gear Is produced by BBC in the UK. So I'm not sure there is much hope for this lawsuit to ac

      • Tesla is a US company

        Their European HQ is in the UK, so they're probably a registered company there too.

      • by jcombel (1557059) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:57PM (#35674260)

        being in a different country doesn't have much of a matter on it. it wouldn't even if tesla didn't market their cars in the UK - which they do.

        on your first point, apples and oranges. the prius bit was obvious comic exaggeration stating an opinion. the tesla bit isn't comic exaggeration, it is an alleged misrepresentation of facts. it wasn't the lawyers that decided whether or not to sue; it was the sales executives who got tired of hearing "the most-watched automobile program in the world said that your car breaks down, doesn't do what you're telling me it does, and the technology isn't up to real-world use. who is lying?"

        i agree with gp; it's nice to see a lawsuit that is "you are lying and costing me money, please stop," instead of "your product bears a similarity to my product, so now i have to sue you for godzilla dollars, lest i lose my patents."

      • by kidgenius (704962)
        Yeah, except BBC also is showing the show in the US....
      • by Sanity (1431) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @11:30PM (#35674490) Homepage Journal

        That said, Tesla is a US company, and Top Gear Is produced by BBC in the UK. So I'm not sure there is much hope for this lawsuit to accomplish anything anyways.

        I'm guessing you haven't heard much about British libel laws.

        • by skids (119237)

          Are there any British laws on the use of black box recordings against the "customer"? That could be a hitch.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 31, 2011 @12:38AM (#35674806)

            The car was probably on loan from Tesla, and after such a poor showing on the show Im sure the engineers were interested in figuring out why it underperformed.

            The car was theirs, they were trying to fix their car because they were told it had failed.

            Its like if you loan your laptop to your buddy, and he infects it with malware... you might just check the logs to see wtf he installed, and if it looked like he installed it on purpose you just might ask him to say hes sorry.

            Yes reverse car analogy.

    • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

      Suppression of a bad review by lawsuit is reasonable?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "This car sucks" is different from "this car broke down twice while we were testing it", when the latter didn't even happen.

      • by LordLucless (582312) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @11:20PM (#35674430)

        "bad" is not equivalent to "factually incorrect"

  • by Dr Black Adder (1764714) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:27PM (#35674020)
    I think Tesla should drive over and deliver the lawsuit to Top Gear in person. Or perhaps they have tried already.....
    • It's a bit difficult, no matter what google maps tells you, to drive from the US to the UK, even if your car is powered by a permanent nuclear reactor or something! :)
  • by ElScorcho (115780) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:32PM (#35674060)

    It irritated me at the time.. they made the thing seem like a poorly-designed money sink that barely worked. It really makes me wonder, though, what would they get out of saying stuff like that if it weren't true? If Tesla has the records and they really did stage breakdowns and dead batteries, to what purpose? It's a show about ridiculously expensive cars that most of us ill never even see, much less drive. Tesla is definitely in that category, and considering the drooling they do over some pretty ridiculous (and ugly) cars.. why pick on them? They made plausible claims, mostly, but the one where they ran out of power after 55 miles I thought was weird. The others (overheating, brakes) could have happened, but there seemed to be a LOT of problems for what is basically a straight-from-the-factory Lotus with an electric drivetrain. (In the show they raced it against a Lotus, you can barely tell the cars apart without looking at the badges).

    Anyway, just makes me wonder if they made it seem like crap (assuming Tesla is telling the truth) in order to appease the old-school dream car companies so they'd keep sending them toys to play with, or maybe Tesla was being a pain in the ass and they wanted to tweak them, or if they just thought it's be funnier.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:44PM (#35674156)

      Or it could be that Clarkson has such a big stick up his ass about "ecomentalists" that Top Gear will bash anything that doesn't burn fossil fuels, even if that thing is a sports car.

    • by WhitetailKitten (866108) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:58PM (#35674272)
      Clarkson cultivates (at least on-screen) a hatred for electric cars and the entire eco movement as a whole. Never mind RVs and campers (or, in the UK, caravans). His entire media persona is a cranky outspoken old fart. Sort of like a militant, half-senile Ron Paul if you moved him out of politics and into entertainment-based car shows.

      Whether or not Tesla is entitled to damages or other concessions from Top Gear/the BBC, I don't know why on Earth they expected a fair review from the show. They obviously didn't watch many episodes before deciding to lend Top Gear a car to trial.
    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      They do tend to make fun of a lot of cars and have had gags with cars breaking down. Some bits are obviously staged. The show is a mix between an auto-review show and a comedy. So it sounds plausible to me that they blurred the line between the two a bit too much in this case.

      Personally I just fast forward through the auto bits to get to the parts where the hosts do something stupid.

    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @11:45PM (#35674580)

      It irritated me at the time.. they made the thing seem like a poorly-designed money sink that barely worked. It really makes me wonder, though, what would they get out of saying stuff like that if it weren't true? If Tesla has the records and they really did stage breakdowns and dead batteries, to what purpose? It's a show about ridiculously expensive cars that most of us ill never even see, much less drive. Tesla is definitely in that category, and considering the drooling they do over some pretty ridiculous (and ugly) cars.. why pick on them? They made plausible claims, mostly, but the one where they ran out of power after 55 miles I thought was weird. The others (overheating, brakes) could have happened, but there seemed to be a LOT of problems for what is basically a straight-from-the-factory Lotus with an electric drivetrain. (In the show they raced it against a Lotus, you can barely tell the cars apart without looking at the badges).

      Anyway, just makes me wonder if they made it seem like crap (assuming Tesla is telling the truth) in order to appease the old-school dream car companies so they'd keep sending them toys to play with, or maybe Tesla was being a pain in the ass and they wanted to tweak them, or if they just thought it's be funnier.

      My intuition tells me Top Gear will turn out to be right.

      When an overhyped product gets a bad review and the maker threatens to sue, you know which way it usually turns out. I'm going with the odds, until the evidence says otherwise.

      If they do in fact have evidence, they're welcome to present it.

  • by Alien Being (18488) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:39PM (#35674108)

    Staged? Top Gear always stages things. How else could they compare a Ferrari to a bicycle or a jet plane to a car. It's entertainment, folks. If Tesla thinks that Top Gear unfairly cost them sales then they are just plain stupid.

    I watched that episode. IMO they showed the strengths and weaknesses of the car. The idiot, Clarkson, claiming that 55 miles of pedal-to-the-metal driving is "real world" is no more ludicrous than Tesla claiming that their roadster is a competitive sports car.

    That Tesla CEO douchebag should just take his lumps and go racing if he thinks he thinks he has the car for it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The idiot, Clarkson, claiming that 55 miles of pedal-to-the-metal driving is "real world" is no more ludicrous than Tesla claiming that their roadster is a competitive sports car.

      Fairly sure clarkson never claimed that, he did claim (correctly) that a real world problem is that it would take days (given 16hour charge time and ~200 mile range) to cross the country.

  • by oracleguy01 (1381327) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:40PM (#35674112)

    This isn't the first group that has gotten upset at Top Gear. They have a pretty long list [wikipedia.org]. The BBC goes to bat for them almost without fail, not surprising since the show has an estimated viewing audience of 350 million worldwide.

    It also should be noted that in the episode in question, they also feature a test drive of the Honda FCX Clarity, Honda's hydrogen powered car. And they liked it a lot.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Tesla is about to learn a very hard lesson about Top Gear. Just from a clout standpoint...they've got to *think* real hard about this move. Top Gear has more clout in the auto industry than anything short of gasoline. Bugatti/Audi/VW/etc let all three hosts drive the Veyron and even Captain Slow took the thing to 250+ mph on a $2millionUSD(to buy)/$5millionUSD(to build, they take a huge loss) car. You don't do that with people-with-no-influence, no matter how good their insurers are. Top Gear also regu

  • Two years later... (Score:5, Informative)

    by locust (6639) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @11:18PM (#35674418)

    So here's what clarkson had to say at the time. From the times online [timesonline.co.uk]:


    Phone calls were made. Editorial policy wallahs were consulted. Experts were called in. No “i” was left undotted. No “t” was left uncrossed. No stone remained unturned in our quest for truth and decency.

    Tesla could not complain about what was shown because it was there. And here’s the strange thing. It didn’t. But someone did. Loudly and to every newspaper in the world.
    ..

    This was weird. Tesla, when contacted by reporters, gave its account of what happened and it was exactly the same as ours. It explained that the brakes had stopped working because of a blown fuse and didn’t question at all our claim that the car would have run out of electricity after 55 miles.

    You would figure that if these claims were so outrageous, tesla would have contradicted them at the time.

    • by MimeticLie (1866406) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @01:13AM (#35674954)
      They did.

      That article didn't match my own recollection of the controversy, so I googled "top gear tesla review". I found a good article from Wired [wired.com] and another from The Guardian [guardian.co.uk].

      From the Wired article:
      - The batteries on the cars "never fell below 20 percent charge".
      - "They never had to push a car off the track because of lack of charge or a fault," and it isn’t clear why the segment included footage showing exactly that, she said.
      - Recharging in customers homes (albeit with specialized equipment) takes "as little as 3.5 hours".
      - The blown fuse that caused the brake failure was replaced, and the car "was back up and running literally within minutes".

      From the Guardian article:

      But it has since emerged that the Tesla, which can be powered from an ordinary domestic plug, did not run out of electricity.

      The car's California-based manufacturer said that the charge on neither of the two Teslas used in the Top Gear test fell below 20%.

      The BBC today denied it had misled viewers, saying that the programme had "at no time" claimed that the car had run out of power. Programme-makers instead showed it slowing down to illustrate what would happen when the car did run out of charge.

      But some viewers were left with a different impression. "I understand trying to make interesting TV, but when it materially changes the image or performance of the product, it's pretty underhanded," said one viewer on a car website.

      Another said: "How pointless, in the same way if a car runs out of petrol I know what happens without a reconstruction of the event."

      So to summarize: Top Gear makes it appear that the Tesla ran out of juice during testing. Tesla called them on it. The BBC claims that despite everyone thinking that is what happened, they never claimed it did. And then, inexplicably, Tesla waits 2 years to sue.

  • by flimflammer (956759) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @11:57PM (#35674624)

    So... Tesla waited 2 years before doing this when it could have set the record straight the moment it happened?

  • by SpaghettiPattern (609814) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @12:04AM (#35674656)
    My recollection of the show is that the Tesla is OK-ish but not earth shattering or ground breaking. The lap time wasn't bad but certainly not impressive which is most likely affected by the weight of the batteries. In the same episode the Honda FCX Clarity is featured which has a fuel cell and behaves exactly like you'd expect from a Honda sedan. This impression is probably what most viewer remember.

    Tesla were probably thinking that being featured on Top Gear would have resulted in a free commercial. Very naive. And suing after more than two years after the first broadcast won't do them any favours. The Streisand effect will be limited by their sort-of reasonable demands but they show themselves as a bunch of sorry sulking kids.

    As said many times before, Top Gear is a show and not a car review programme.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 31, 2011 @12:17AM (#35674724)

    Most of the highly rated comments are assuming that all Tesla's claims are true.

    Having just watched the segment:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DfHyGD7_pM

    The review starts off really quite positive.

    Tesla claims that Top Gear misrepresented the company along these following points:

          1. The Roadster ran out of charge and had to be pushed into the Top Gear hangar by four men.

    4:56 - Top gear doesn't actually state that they ever ran out of battery. They simulated it ("and if it does run out") as an illustration that driving the car as marketed (As a sports car) gives you a much smaller range than the quoted figure. They could have done it for real by driving it around the track for hour, but what does this gain exactly?

          2. The Roadster’s true range is only 55 miles per charge (not 211).

    This is a blatantly false claim by Tesla. Jeremy stated that they worked out that the range "around their track" is 55 miles, while also mentioning the 211 mile claimed range by Tesla. When he later calculated the time to drive to Scotland, with the 16 hour recharge rate from a normal electrical socket, it was obvious he was using the 211 mile figure. (It's a trip of @700 miles)

          3. One Roadster’s motor overheated and was completely immobilized as a result.

    The motor did overheat (6:48), but Jeremy stated that he had "reduced power", not "no power". There was video showing that the car was continuing at a reduced speed, followed by a shot of the car parked forlornly on the track, but I seriously doubt this is sufficient for a libel suit.

          4. The other Roadster’s brakes were broken, rendering the car undriveable.

    If I remember correctly there _was_ a problem with the brakes at the test track. Something to do with a fuse on the regenerative braking system. Top Gear never stated that car was undriveable, only that they couldn't use it (It either was suitable for track work/filming, or Tesla were attempting to fix the issue). This appears to be a strawman argument.

          5. That neither of the two Roadsters provided to Top Gear was available for test driving due to these problems.

    This is a nice case of weasel words. This doesn't say that neither car had troubles, only that both cars didn't have troubles _at the same time_.

    Additionally I'll also note that this lawsuit is a change of tune from their previous comments, where a PR person spoke to the press immediately after the review:
    "She said the company would not be pursuing the matter with the BBC. "We would love to have them drive it again whenever they want.""

    "But she said she was generally happy with the overall tone of the review. "I thought it was a positive piece for Tesla by Top Gear standards. I personally like the show – it savages cars in a very entertaining way.

    "My concern was with American viewers who were tuning in for the first time and might not understand the whole angle of the show. We wanted to make clear that range was not a concern over the entire time of the [Top Gear] test.""

    More info:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/dec/24/jeremy-clarkson-top-gear-tesla-electric-car
    http://jalopnik.com/#!5118465/clarkson-ignores-bbcs-carefully-worded-response-responds-to-tesla-on-his-own
    http://jalopnik.com/#!5112828/tesla-issues-response-to-top-gear-review

    This smells like a marketing exercise.

    • And add to that the fact that unless they are total morons, they had to have watched Top Gear and thus be aware they are goof balls. I mean these are the people that did a beach assault with the Royal Marines using a sedan.They do silly things with cars, they rip on shit that doesn't matter at all to normal people. Also any sort of performance car tends to get reviewed by Clarkson who (at least on camera) is a complete speed freak and doesn't like any car that can't go 200mph+.

      If they didn't expect a review

  • by Zalbik (308903) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @10:45AM (#35677924)

    I don't understand the summary at all!

    Could someone please provide a simple car analogy?

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