Tesla Motors Loses Libel Case Over Top Gear's Roadster Review (Again)

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2011 Tesla Roadster Final Edition, photograph copyright Damon Lavrinc / AOL

2011 Tesla Roadster Final Edition, photograph copyright Damon Lavrinc / AOL

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It isn't easy being a startup car company.

Running a new business is difficult enough without others damaging the reputation of your product. That's why Tesla CEO Elon Musk fought so hard over The New York Times' assessment of its Model S in a recent road trip, and why the company sued Top Gear for a report on its Roadster back in 2008.

Unfortunately for Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA], it's now lost that lawsuit, reports Reuters.

The legal challenge centered on a road test of the Roadster on BBC car show Top Gear, back in 2008.

Driven by the show's main presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, the Roadster apparently delivered an extremely poor driving range, ran out of electricity before the test was over (the car was shown being pushed into a garage to be re-charged) and broke down after overheating.

Tesla said the report had "intentionally or recklessly grossly misled potential purchasers".

The latest suit seeked to overturn a prior judgement dismissing Tesla's libel claims, so it's unlikely the new case will go any further.

It was actually Top Gear's segment on the Roadster that encouraged Tesla to enable data-logging devices to its press vehicles, as comeback should a journalist try and fabricate data about the car's range or performance.

It was this tracking that Tesla used to call out The New York Times writer John Broder earlier this year whose report denounced the car's range capabilities in cold weather. Tesla says it missed out on $100 million in sales and cancelled orders due to the story--so their pursuit of damages from Top Gear is easy to understand.

Appeal Court Judge Martin Moore-Bick disagreed with Tesla's assertions, saying "It would be obvious to a reasonable viewer ... that the range derived from track testing was not in any meaningful sense the car's 'true range'."

What are your thoughts on Tesla's battles against bad press? Leave your thoughts on the matter below.


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Comments (16)
  1. I really disagree with the Judge. Since 2008, comments on YouTube, when I used to play GT5 and in person, since then, everyone thought that the Tesla which had the longest EV range could only go 55 miles and needed a 13 hour recharge afterwards, many exaggerated and said 33. I think the Judge had overestimated opinions of the general viewer of TopGear or have been too kind about them. TopGear has been caught out by Nissan too two years ago for deliberate slander. It's obvious that TopGear's too big for the BBC to let it fail. That's what worries me, when one can avoid being sued or accused as guilty for any reason. Capital is an obvious example.

  2. Tesla Motors doesn't know how to bring a lawsuit. Oh well... lesson learned... maybe. The next time you state range, qualify it -- Range is 300 miles @ 55 or 65 or -X- mph.


  3. That's a great idea, but turning also costs energy, which is why EPA uses standardized tests: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Environmental_Protection_Agency#Fuel_economy

  4. I'll never understand why society always fights innovation for several years only to accept it later. Tesla should have won against Top Gear because they purposely tried to hurt Tesla. And Top Gear should apologize to it's viewers for intentionally misleading them.

  5. Top Gear SUCKS! stop watching it long ago...When I want to watch morons abuse cars I can see that in public from some of the teen drivers these idiots have influenced.

  6. I agree. And the US version of Top Gear isn't much better either...

  7. Society itself doesn't always fight innovation, it is the powers that be, whether they be car companies, energy firms, peddlers of superstition, quackery...you name it.

  8. This article missed some facts:

    "Top Gear had literally written the script before they even received the car (we happened to find a copy of the script on a table while the car was being “tested”).

    Their legal defense was that they never actually said it broke down, they just implied that it could and then filmed themselves pushing what viewers did not realize was a perfectly functional car."


  9. The UK justice system is quite different to the US justice system. The somewhat commonplace activity (within the USA) of suing someone to solve a grievance is not such an easy task with UK law, which protects freedom of speech and expression quite strongly - for better or worse as we can see. I would imagine that in the US, Tesla probably would have won any similar lawsuit.

  10. ...And that would be very bad for our freedom, and free speech.

    One should not have to be afraid of expressing an opinion which a corporate interest does not like. One should not have to fear corporate retribution.

  11. Now that tesla is getting market traction, an array of vested interests are lining up against it. Tesla needs to be far more aggressive in protecting its EV technology or it will be smothered by nonsense like this.
    Tesla, along with GMs volt and other phevs / Bevs are here now and blazing both a tech and market trail that will bring the dreams of tomorrow to life. All they have to do is keep clearing away the fog generated by top gear and other sensation first facts second reporting...

  12. Never fight someone with a megaphone, who buys newsprint by the ton.

    I don't see how Tesla gets the Model S tested on Top Gear.

  13. It's a conspiracy against the electric car....LOL

  14. Anyone who sues anyone else over expressing their opinion does not deserve my or anyone else's business.

    If you sue someone because they express an opinion which you do not like, I do not want to have anything to do with you. Consequently, I do not want to do any business with Tesla, a company which tries to sanction what people can and cannot say via the legal system.

    Such a company is a threat to freedom and free speech and as far as I am concerned, crooked and corrupt, and should therefore go out of business, with no tears shed and no sleep lost.

    We should not support oppression, no matter which form it comes in, no matter how labeled.

  15. @Annatar: [chuckle] Tesla does not manufacture six-speed diesel-engined station wagons and never will, so does it not seem *highly* unlikely the company would get your business in any case? :)

  16. Regardless, it is a matter of principle.

    Remember when I told you when I quoted Voltaire:

    "I disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

    Oppression from corporate interest in any form should not be tolerated. Today corporations attempt to control what we can and cannot say. What will they do tomorrow? What will they do in a 100 years' time, if they are not opposed?

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