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back to article Tesla Motors sues BBC for defamation

Tesla Motors has filed libel a suit against the BBC, accusing Top Gear of defamation. Back in 2008, we reported how in comparison tests between the electric Tesla Roadster and a Lotus Elise, Jeremy Clarkson and co. falsely declared the Tesla ran out of juice and had to be pushed home. The programme later said it was only showing …

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FAIL

Kind of pathetic really

OK, sue the BBC. Next episode of Top Gear, they'll really do a number on you. Top Gear has more fans than Tesla.

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erm...

Erm... If Tesla are to be believed then Top Gear is knowingly spreading lies about them in a manner which can impact on their business. There are laws against defamation to deal with things like this.

Now if Tesla isn't talking bollox, where is the justification from the BBC?

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Anonymous Coward

@Jason Hall and others

Tesla's complaints (from their website) are:

Specifically, Top Gear misrepresented that:

(1) The Roadster ran out of charge and had to be pushed into the Top Gear hangar by 4 men.

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

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

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

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

Now, obviously I don't have access to the full background facts, and the program was broadcast some time ago but:

(1) Topgear will argue that should the Tesla run out of power then it will take 4 people to push it to a charging station - you cannot just get someone to drive to you with a jerry can of petrol like you can with a real car.

(2) Topgear specified 55 miles round their track. The way they drive this appears reasonable and eminently arguable as true.

(3) I am not sure about the absolute truth about this one. However the way they were driving it this seems plausible. Given Tesla's acknowledged problems with cars catching fire this seems a stupid point to contest.

(4) Again I do not know about the truth of that one - However should the brakes fail or degrade then it seems reasonable to label the car as undriveable.

(5) This is dependent on 3 and 4. If 3 and 4 are true then 5 is also true. If not then not.

So, we have essentially 4 complaints, two of which are defensible, which leaves 2 possible defamatory statements. Given that overheating is less bad than catching fire it seems that Tesla are basing their entire case on whether the brakes failed on one of the cars.

Seems pretty lame basis for libel action, even in the US.

As a matter of interest the website goes on to state:

"The zero-emission Roadster is the world’s only electric supercar. Powered by a battery pack comprised of 6,831 lithium-ion cells, it accelerates from 0-60 in 3.7 seconds without a drop of gasoline. "

Which is at least as naughty as whatever they are accusing Topgear of doing.

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re: erm...

The only people this will affect are those dumb enough to think that Top Gear is a serious review program. It's enourmously entertaining but most people figure out within 5 minutes that you can't believe a thing they say.

Do people selling Nitrous injection systems sue because the original Stig was killed by a Nitrous powered car falling off an aircraft carrier?

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Stop

You...

...aren't familiar with the UK's libel laws, are you?

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Yes, there are laws...

Yes, there are laws, *thats* why Tesla is suing. The local District Attorney isn't going to do it for them.

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Tesla are not the ones who are pathetic

Top Gear portrays itself as an amusing but reasonably accurate show. To do what they did with the Tesla was pathetic and farsical. I enjoy the show but lets be honest when we view some of the 'stunts' ...

a) Yes the Tesla could run out of battery power, but the Elise could have run out of petrol

b) Yes a 1970's British car when full to the brim of water will leak, but I would put a pound of my money to a pinch of your shit that a 1970's BMW would also leak

c) Yes a Maclaren Mercedes is exceptionally fast, but at <3mpg this speed is not at all useful (taking the comment about how fast its huge tank would empty when doing 200+mph).

The list of these things goes on. I'm sure it is wonderful to take the piss out of the cars most of us can afford when you are creaming the money in the way that Clarkson et al manage when their contribution to mankind is a few hours of reading someone elses script on a few weeks a year. I work damned hard for the money the BBC take, the least I expect is for them to do something vaguely honest for it.

I say Tesla should get a years salary from each of the producers and presenters, then a couple of million from the bbc itself.

I don't really give a damn if more people like top gear than tesla, that isn't a reason to lie.

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do you remember the ford probe?

no?

me either, i wonder why?......

thats why the lawsuit.

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leaky

>a 1970's BMW would also leak

They did already show this with 3 late 1980's BMWs. (admittedly filled with helium rather than water, but the principle remains)

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So that leaves just me...

... who is perfectly willing to believe that the presenters of Top Gear may have libelled Tesla (though, equally, they may not have done, I don't know) and willing to admit that he doesn't find the programme entertaining at all? I always find their little conversations to be laboriously over rehearsed. I mean, not on the Master Chef level — they're well above that sort of stuff — but so as to make the 'wit' very hard to enjoy.

Thus concludes my highly irrelevant and completely personal opinion.

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Rubish - Zero Emissions?

Agree entirely. Something at the bottom really caught my eye however...

"The zero-emission Roadster"

That is a false statement (lie) for almost 100% of the potential owners.

At least in the US, it is mainly a Coal-Powered car, hardly zero-emission.

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Of course we do

Didn't Ford's engineers demonstrate a wonderful concept which was then ruined in traditional fashion by the marketing department? E.g. the exceptionally aerodynamic wheels, replaced with clunky items full of turbulence inducing holes. Looking at the cars I see everyday, I see we're still waiting for windows that are flush with the bodywork too.

So what's your point?

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Anonymous Coward

Allow me to edit your post

Now, obviously I don't have access to the full background facts, and the program was broadcast some time ago but:

(1) Topgear will argue that should the Tesla run out of power then it will take 4 people to push it to a charging station - you cannot just get someone to drive to you with a jerry can of petrol like you can with a real car.

(2) Topgear specified 55 miles round their track. The way they drive this appears reasonable and eminently arguable as true.

(3) I do not know enough about the facts to make a useful comment

(4) I do not know enough about the facts to make a useful comment

(5) I do not know enough about the facts to make a useful comment

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WTF?

Apple flavoured car

I may be completely mistaken, having last seen the episode in question 3 years ago, but I thought it was fairly clear during the broadcast that the reason they only got 55 odd miles out of the car was because they were enjoying the battery powered wonder in the fashion you should enjoy a performance car. The piece generally complimented the car.

Regardless, surely if you want to by a performance electric car you'd be buying it largely for that novelty fact, I don't thing poor range is really going to worry you that much. If you wanted something more eco-friendly that can do thousands of miles you'd by a small diesel car.

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They could always follow Renault's lead

and say they'll retaliate by pulling all their advertising away from the BBC.

And that was back before Clarkson even got involved.

Now how does one spell Streisand?

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I assume you mean in their magazines,

not on the telly? Last time I checked, the BBC doesn't run advertisements on the telly.

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FAIL

Do'h

I think you missed that one...

However they do advertise on foreign channels and on iPlayer when its available abroad.

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Yes, but

that was my point entirely. The boss of Renault instructed the marketing department to pull all advertising from the BBC in retaliation for a review, only to be told by the marketing dept. that would be a little difficult since the BBC didn't do any advertising.

As I said this was back before the days of Clarkson, so no magazine, no iPlayer and not the global mega sales the program enjoys today.

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is not a title

... *boom* *boom*, excellent pun

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Sloppy Beeb

So If I understand the article right, the problem is the BBC didn't wait until the vehicle ran out of charge before "Pushing it home".

Seems very sloppy... If they'd have just driven it a little longer they could have argued truth....

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Anonymous Coward

@Chad

As funny as Top Gear can be sometimes, they don't really care about the truth.

All the BBC cares about is viewers, and the 3 dicks that they employ keep those figures high.

Now promoting Clarkson's hatred of everything 'green' means having to lie occasionally. They have just been caught out, that's all.

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@AC 14:149

"Clarkson's hatred of everything 'green'" is right - there's an interview with him somewhere where he was asked, point blank, whether he believed in the idea of human-caused climate change, and his answer was pretty much "well, if I said yes, I'd be doing myself out of a job, so no".

There again, the man has somehow managed to make a successful career out of being an overbearing twat, so why should we expect anything else from him?

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WTF?

Eh?

"Clarkson's hatred of everything 'green'" is right - there's an interview with him somewhere where he was asked, point blank, whether he believed in the idea of human-caused climate change, and his answer was pretty much "well, if I said yes, I'd be doing myself out of a job, so no".

So because someone doesn't believe humans cause climate change, they're not "green"? There's far more to the environment than CO2, and misguided attemps at halting natural processes.

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FAIL

Precognition?

I for one welcome you and all our other new precog overlords. What mighty power you must wield to be able to know the result of the lawsuit in advance.

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Boffin

@Chad

Trouble with that is, (as was made clear later on) the car came with about a hundred minders from Tesla, who refused to allow Top Gear to actually let the car reach its limits.

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Stop

wait, what?

Top Gear is a comedy show with cars providing some of the source material (not that there's anything wrong with that, I love the show). I don't know what's dumber, Tesla taking Top Gear seriously, or the people thinking about buying teslas (all 5 of them) taking Top Gear seriously.

In any event, trying to embargo the episode is just going to make it even more popular. Laugh it off, guys.

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Most people can't afford the cars they usually review on Top Gear anyway.

I hardly see how it's going to affect sales of Tesla cars, which are going to be a second car for rich people.

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Anonymous Coward

@ Pet Peeve

If a company has an agenda (well Clarkson *is* the company as far as Top Gear goes) and speads lies about your product, then Tesla are doing what's right to try to stop it.

The BBC is supposed to be impartial in everything it does.

Top Gear may only be a comedy car show, but they are still under the same remit, and also not break the UK law.

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Oh yes Very serious

I cant Wait for Bentley to start suing Top Gear as well

http://static.autoblog.nl/images/wp2011/TopGear_limo_test_2.jpg

Car on the left is a Bentley

Anybody with half a bain actually realises half of the stuff they do is staged.

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BBC?

Impartial?

*cough*

*splutter*

Ha!

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Factual?

Yes Top Gear is a comedy show, but it's not categorised as such. On iPlayer it's categorised as a factual programme. I believe it's produced by the BBC departments that make factual programmes, not comedy.

That's not to say that factual programmes can't be funny, but they must presumably also be factual.

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Happy

@Lionel Baden

"http://static.autoblog.nl/images/wp2011/TopGear_limo_test_2.jpg"

Thanks for reminding me of that one.

From their Ideal cars for Albanian gangsters special IIRC

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Unhappy

factual

dearie me! what makes you think factual programmes have to be factual?

look at some other programme categories. how many "comedy" programmes are funny? how much actual news is in the typical news broadcast? I don't remember the last time there was a drama programme that had a credible plot or was vaguely dramatic. then there's sky "you can have any sport you want as long as its premier league footie" sports[12345678].

imo broadcasters call any old shit that can't fit into some other pigeonhole "factual". except itv of course. they've long given up trying to make anything that's worth watching. nobody cares whether their stuff is called factual or comedy or whatever. nobody can tell the difference anyway.

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On a hiding to nothing..

The judge will declare Clarkson a twat and Tesla's case will be dismissed

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Tesla are fools to Sue Top Gear over this.

First of all, the criticisms leveled in the show are not really that unfair because if you really give the car a sound thrashing, it doesn't really have the claimed miles, and unless you nurse it along, you aren't going to get the stated range. nor are you going to charge it particularly quickly without an appropriate and specialist charging station especially built for Tesla. So, in the real world, Tesla does fail a bit. Oddly enough though, Clarkson actually liked the car, he just hated the limited range, and the fact that it broke, rather easily.

However, Tesla are fools to sue because suing Jeremy Clarkson et al and Top Gear is rather like suing Tre and Matt over an episode of south Park. Top Gear lost all semblance of being a serious motoring show long, long ago. It's clearly entertainment, although has some moments of real journalism that are actually extremely poignant - just think of their documentary driving across the south of the US to New Orleans two years after Katrina. They were gob smacked that the place still looked as it did. Frankly so was I, but no one else was going there, and they did. In their bumbling, silly, jokey travelogue they went there, and their tone turned serious as they confronted the reality of the situation there and the reality of the lack of clean up being done - 2 years later.

Either way, Tesla are acting with foolish pride and making themselves a laughing stock. No one, for a moment, believes that every word from Clarkson et al is perfectly serious and valid. but they do see that if you take the Tesla onto the road and thrash it around, you'll run out of juice quickly. And let's face it, if you buy a sporty car, even an electric one, you're not going to drive like some bean sprout munching Prius driver, are you?

Whatever, Tesla are fools, and I'm allowed to say so, because it's an opinion. Gee, I wonder whether a TV car show well known for satire and opinion can be held liable for what is clearly a less than serious opinion? I guess we're going to find out. Quite why Tesla wants to annoy Top Gear's fans is a good question since they represent a disproportionately large number of potential Tesla buyers.

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Anonymous Coward

@Highlander

"Quite why Tesla wants to annoy Top Gear's fans is a good question since they represent a disproportionately large number of potential Tesla buyers."

And there you have it. If potential Tesla buyers are viewers of Top Gear, then Top Gear should stop spreading lies about Tesla's products.

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@ AC 15:39

...or Tesla can make a car with the reliability of other cars in the £85-105k range, and stop moaning about it when faults get picked up.

I mean, the faults they had - and these *are* the faults - no 2nd gear, motor going into safe-mode, brake fuses popping - these are not trivial 'the-sun-visor-is-rattling' type faults.

These are pretty fundamental fuck ups you'd normally find on a prototype, not a *production* car.

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@AC What do you not get about Top Gear being entertainment?

Seriously, what is it that you don't get? Do you honestly believe that Top Gear is a serious motoring journalism show where completely factual reviews of cars are conducted? About the only factual element of the show is the time set on the test track by each car or the star in a reasonably priced car.

Honestly, humorless people should not even get close to this story as they utterly miss the point - much like Tesla. But you know what, if you take it that seriously then there are three possibilities I see;

1) You work for or own part of Tesla.

2) You are one of the 5 people in the world driving one of Tesla's cars

or 3) you have an ax to grind with the Beeb, top Gear and/or Jeremy Clarkson.

The thing is, Tesla are doing more harm than good with this. The folks that watch - and 'get' - Top Gear, already know that the Tesla is a good product which at this point has a few issues such as limited range. The 'review' on top gear, had no effect on their buying plans at all, if anything it enhanced the car's reputation since it had been featured on Top Gear. However Now Tesla are acting all spoiled child and doing the time honored America thing of suing someone. My, my, how very Tom Cruise of them. A *better* response from Tesla might have been to work with top gear, and send them an improved car for a second test - as other manufacturers of super-cars have done after an embarrassing failure on the TG test track.

Tesla could also come clean and recognize that if you have a lead foot driving style, you won't get the claimed range, and if you hammer the breaks, the regenerative breaking system could potentially overload and fail. They could point out however that in more ordinary driving, the car performs well. However then they might have to come clean about the charging time for the car from a standard residential electrical outlet as well as the availability of the higher power specialized Tesla charging outlets that can charge the care more quickly (hint: they aren't very available and you can't carry one with you.)

The point being that Tesla could have handled this situation so much better instead of instigating a years long feud ending in court action. I find their action to be foolish in the extreme.

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Happy

Could be worse.

At least the Tesla is not made in Mexico.

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Hmm

I'm tempted to join the "It's a comedy show" comments, but in this case I actualy thought it was a nasty hatchett job and a bit put up. They've fixed petrol cars after breaking them, and re-tested them.

I think in this case my feelings are with Tesla, although I do think that suing is blunt instrument.

Oh, and @MisestoPisces, yes. Clarkson is a twat. Hammond is a pillock, and I quite like James May, when he isn;t playing the buffoon.

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(this title intentionally left blank)

"They've fixed petrol cars after breaking them, and re-tested them."

Yea, but this isn't a petrol car...It's probably a lot more complicated to just fix it up and go again - which is a valid point if you are wanting to buy one.

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Watch the show

They didn't declare the car had ran out of juice during the test. It was obvious that they were referring to the difference between a petrol engine running out of juice (get go-juice to car) and an electric car (get car to go-juice).

Anyone who can watch that episode and come to any other conclusion must be suffering from ADD.

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Inocrrect reporting - watch the actual show

"Clarkson claimed the Tesla cut out at 55 miles"

No, he didnt. The actual statement in the show was "we worked out that on out track it would run out after just 55 miles".

Not only is there a huge difference between "ran out" and "worked out it would run out", I fail to see how it running out after 55 miles would be a bad thing anyway. "on a track" clearly means you're thrashing the hell out of it, and tesla's 200-odd mile range is based on driving at something like 40mph - So there's most likely no misrepresentation whatsoever about that 55 mile figure, which seems perfectly reasonable for thrashing it round a track.

Tesla's complaint also moans that the show said one of the cars broke down through overheating - Again this seems a complete fiction, Clarkson's words were "the motor's overheating and i've got reduced power" - This is exactly what Tesla's own court filing says happened, while complaining that the show supposedly said the car had packed up entirely.

I really cant for the life of me see why Tesla's nickers are in a twist - Not only are their complaints just inaccurate/wrong, but the segment on the show was by and large very positive of the tesla, it seems amazing that they cant just take the range/reliability criticism and actually improve things (regardless of how the show may or may not have portrayed it, Tesla's own court filing agrees that one car suffered reduced power due to overheating and the other had a partial brake failure caused by a blown fuse, neither of which you exactly want to be common faults on any car, let alone one costing a hundred grand).

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"Tesla's nickers are in a twist"

Allow me to posit why I think Tesla has chosen now to complain about an episode that was broadcast 27 months ago. As has been documented on the Reg and elsewhere, Elon Musk has committed a goodly percentage of his real and theoretical wealth to Tesla and the litigation around his bitter divorce is threatening his wealth and thus the funding of Tesla. There has also been a great deal of funding from the US government, also under threat during the entrenched budget fight in Congress. Thus, this is a ploy to get some UK taxpayer/TV license funds to buttress the company during its fiscal uncertainty. And perhaps keep the company in the news. This is purely hypothesis, so flame away.

I had to look to see if Top Gear featured the Tesla again, because my recollection of the episode was that the lads were rather gentle on the Tesla. Certainly there was not the fire that the G-Wiz draws on a regular basis.

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Stop

Some people take it seriously though

The problem is that some ill or nil informed people out there do seem to take the results of "tests" on Top Gear as serious car review results. I just had a guy commenting how he used to have one of the vehicles I was looking at and he agreed with Clarkson on how wonderful it was. He then went on about What Top Gear thought about certain cars.

One has to remember that many people don't read proper car mags or websites and Top Gear is the only way they see reports on cars. It must be pretty annoying for a manufacturer when a entertainment show spins some story just to make it more "interesting".

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People taking top Gear Seriously?

Seriously? I mean, taking Top gear seriously is rather like mistaking The Daily Show or the Colbert Report as real news shows.

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FAIL

immediate flaws with Tesla's case

Caveat: I think Clarkson is an arse.

But...

1. The gearbox wasn't working - couldn't get 2nd gear.

Drive around in 1st gear in your petrol car foot-to-the-floor, and you're gonna get crappy range too. (well...you know what I mean).

2. 55 miles range

55 miles was at track speed, not the official electric range thingy. A ferrari does 21mpg (or something) on the combined cycle, but only 4mpg on the top gear track. I don't see Ferrari complaining.

Also - "did not run out of charge". In other words, it went into "sleep mode" like most other electric devices to prevent damage to the battery. Technically not "discharged", but the device is unuseable until plugged in. So in the case of a car - yes, it'll need pushed. I mean - if you ran out of charge what was going to happen? Magically open a portal to transport itself to the nearest socket? FFS. Whether Clarkson was actually 'fully discharged' or not - if you ran out of juice, pushing the car to a socket is the only thing to do, so it was still a valid demonstration (afterall - the contrast is with a petrol car, which can get a fuel-up at the roadside, thus not needing a push).

3. Motor overheating

Ok, so if the motor didn't overheat, exactly what did clarkson do? Why did the safe-mode engage? And if the safe-mode speed is < 10mph, that's "driving in a hazardous manner" here in the UK. Try doing that on the motorway, and see how much sympathy you get. Better to be immobile (for safety), and sat halfway up a embankment waiting for the AA truck, like the adverts tell you to do.

4. Broken brakes

So exactly what did happen then? Why would Top Gear fabricate this story? Are you going to claim that since the braking 'still worked', so it was driveable? Looks like it was fuse had blown, requiring "the brake pedal needed to be pressed down harder than normal". Funny - didn't someone *die* because of dodgy brakes in a Lexus?

I mean - put that down on the insurance after you rear-end someone -

"Did you knowingly drive the car with a known defect to the braking system?"

"Yes"

"CLAIM DENIED"

If that had happened to me, I also would have declared the car "undriveable" too (especially in track or town conditions).

All in all - this is only making Tesla's reliability look bad. For a £85-105k *production* car it should have been FAULTLESS. It transparently wasn't - it had faults typical of a prototype, regardless of how much Tesla bleat, or how much Clarkson over-egged it.

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Minor correction

"1. The gearbox wasn't working - couldn't get 2nd gear.

Drive around in 1st gear in your petrol car foot-to-the-floor, and you're gonna get crappy range too. (well...you know what I mean)."

The gearbox was working fine, the Tesla only has a single gear. Clarkson was talking about during the design phase, they were originally trying for 2 gears but it didnt work properly, so the car was built to use only one gear - This was an alteration in the design of the car, not a fault in the one TG was testing.

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Go on the attack

Make some ads showing footage of car crash victims burning to death in petrol powered cars.

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Anonymous Coward

Go for it

And then we'll make some more showing all those luvverly 18650 LiIon cells going bang a'la dodgy laptop battery shall we?

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