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Tesla Sues BBC's Top Gear For Libel 547

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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  • ...and pay £100,000 (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:23PM (#35673984)

    Tesla simply wants Top Gear to stop rebroadcasting the particular episode and to correct the record ...and pay them £100,000 in damages

    Fixed that for you!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/mar/30/tesla-sue-top-gear [guardian.co.uk]

  • by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:30PM (#35674042) Homepage Journal

    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 accomplish anything anyways.

  • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:41PM (#35674136) Homepage Journal

    Both Tesla cars given for testing did NOT ever get below 20% charge.

    And the onboard data loggers and battery charge indicators (plus a capacity check after the fact,) will show all of that.

    No wonder you posted as AC.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @10:55PM (#35674246)

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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 mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Thursday March 31, 2011 @01:51AM (#35675106)

    You should actually watch the review instead of just making stuff up (I can't believe you can get modded informative when you say "It's been a while since I've seen the episode" while the review in question is actually linked to the article. Why not just watch the review, it takes 10 minutes! and you will actually know what you are talking about). They were given two cars, and the point they were making was about the amount of time it takes to charge the cars, and how that made then essentially unusable for long road trips (they suggest that for normal driving you should buy two so you can use one while the other is charging). This is a real concern, and it is not misrepresented. While a normal car takes a couple minutes to fill, the Tesla takes hours. And they did say "We've worked out that it would only get 55 miles in our track driving" they never claimed it actually ran out of charge during testing (which is what tesla is disputing). They showed a simulation of it running out of charge, but they could have easily just run it down! Who would say that they couldn't? That's not the point they were making. The visuals are for dramatic effect. Complaining that it didn't actually run out during testing is just nit-picking. Everyone knows that if you drive a car far enough, it will run out of energy.

    As for whether or not the breaks actually broke, or the engine actually overheated, Tesla doesn't seem to be disputing that as far as I can tell.

  • by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Thursday March 31, 2011 @02:13AM (#35675178)

    You are wrong on several critical points. Tesla is not claiming that the actual breakdowns were scripted. The only thing they are claiming was scripted was the scene where the Tesla runs out of charge. To be clear, the car did actually overheat, and the other car's breaks did stop working. Those were not scripted or false.

    The scene of the car running out of charge is a dramatic lead-in to their discussion of the car's major real-world flaw, which is charging times. Watch the clip and you will see that they way they make their claim implies that the car running out of charge was simulated

    Realistically, they did not need to simulate this, because they could have actually driven it until it ran out of charge. Of course, it's not surprising that they wouldn't do that, since it's a huge waste of time and the end result is a foregone conclusion. It seems to me that Tesla is really just whining over a technicality, since it's true the car will run out of charge, and that's what they showed.

  • by definate ( 876684 ) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @02:38AM (#35675260)

    Except, it didn't run out of power, and in normal driving it wouldn't, hence not needing to buy two, and also not needing to recharge from flat.

    I watched that episode, and more so, I've had many many many conversations with people, who believe that the Tesla DID run out of power, and that they'd never buy it because of that. This extremely misrepresents its capabilities, and they likely could have lost money form it.

    They don't SAY it ran out, but they do IMPLY it ran out. They go "But then... Oh..." he looks down and it decreases its acceleration.

    "For libel in the United States, the person first must prove that the statement was false. Second, that person must prove that the statement caused harm. And, third, they must prove that the statement was made without adequate research into the truthfulness of the statement."

    The statement was false, it should last for 200mph (given Tesla aren't lying).
    They lost sales (likely).
    They didn't actually test it, just said our calculations show.

    They've possibly got quite a good case for libel.

  • by aitikin ( 909209 ) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @03:03AM (#35675362)
    First off, the review is linked in the second article and this is slashdot. No one RTFAs, and those links are on the main page! You have a lower ID than me and you didn't know that?

    On the second note, if Tesla's claim that they can prove their disputes with the data logging on the roadster proves true, than Tesla's going to win (IANAL, muchless a British one). Disputing your argument above, no where in the segment did they say they were simulating the car running out. From the episode, "...but then, although Tesla say it'll do 2 hundred miles we worked out that on our track it would run out after just fifty-five miles." This is definitely a case of inferred versus implied, as the way it was represented definitely implied to me that they weren't simulating.

    Furthermore, in the very article where you found the link, it states that Tesla is disputing the claims about both the brakes (please use the right brake, it makes so much more sense) breaking (point number four in the article), and the engine overheating (point number four). And furthermore, the video cuts before it can get to point number five. "That neither of the two Roadsters provided to Top Gear was available for test driving due to these problems." (Again, FTA).

    So, sorry fanboy, but you're too quick to defend and too quick to skip over the details.

    Also, I guess it's prudent to note that I have no affiliation with either group, nor do I have any true interest in this at all. As of today I have watched more Top Gear than I have in the rest of my life.
  • Re:FIRST LAWSUIT! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Alistair Hutton ( 889794 ) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @04:07AM (#35675624) Homepage
    They sent a letter to the editor 2 years ago when the episode was first shown drawing attention to the Top Gear lies.

    The BBC keep repeating the episode with the lies intact so Tesla are going for the only avenue left open to them.

  • by makomk ( 752139 ) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @05:20AM (#35675952) Journal

    They don't SAY it ran out, but they do IMPLY it ran out. They go "But then... Oh..." he looks down and it decreases its acceleration.

    Or possibly the car deliberately decreased its acceleration [nytimes.com] because the battery was running low. Note that "low" doesn't mean "close to 0%" - it would seem that the car stops running completely at 10% battery left [teslamotorsclub.com] unless you want to reduce your battery life by overriding this. 20% battery when the warnings come on and the car starts reducing its performance to get you to recharge is totally plausible.

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

    by makomk ( 752139 ) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @05:30AM (#35675990) Journal

    Define "actually ran out of battery power". In the default mode, the Tesla Roadster stops running well before the battery is empty. Now, the exact level at which this happens doesn't seem to be documented anywhere official, but it appears to be about 10% full [teslamotorsclub.com]. You can disable this, but Tesla Motors advise against it because it reduces battery lifespan.

    The other catch is that the car apparently reduces performance to encourage you to recharge even before this. Now, again the level at which this happens isn't documented anywhere, but if the battery really was at 20% then it's entirely possible the Top Gear team were experiencing loss of power and battery warnings.

    The "20% battery left" statement by Tesla's PR department is very misleading.

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