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Tesla Roadster  (Source: Tesla Motors)

Left to Right: Hammond, Clarkson, and May  (Source: BBC)
Tesla isn't laughing when it comes to Jeremy Clarkson's antics

Top Gear is pretty much the biggest automotive show on the planet. It's car porn for car nuts and any enthusiast worth his/her salt watches every episode of the show by any means necessary. Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, are known to take a few liberties when reviewing cars on the BBC program -- especially Clarkson -- but the antics of the show with regards to the Tesla Roadster are landing them in some legal hot water [PDF].

Jeremy Clarkson tested the Roadster along the show's famous "track" and made a number of false or misleading claims about the vehicle's capabilities. You can view the [admittedly low quality] Top Gear segment here for yourself. 

Tesla lays out the following portions of the review that were misrepresented by Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear: 

  • The Roadster ran out of charge and had to be pushed into the Top Gear hangar by 4 men.
  • The Roadster’s true range is only 55 miles per charge (not 211).
  • One Roadster’s motor overheated and was completely immobilized as a result.
  • The other Roadster’s brakes were broken, rendering the car undriveable.
  • That neither of the two Roadsters provided to Top Gear was available for test driving due to these problems.

Ricardo Reyes, Vice President of Communications for Tesla, further hammers Clarkson and his antics in a blog post:

In the episode, two Roadsters are depicted as suffering several critical "breakdowns" during track driving. The show’s script, written before the cars were tested, has host Jeremy Clarkson concluding the segment by saying, "in the real world, it doesn’t seem to work."

Today, we continue to field questions and explain the serious misconceptions created by the show. Many of us have heard: I know this car, the one that broke down on Top Gear. Despite the show's buffoonery, Clarkson’s words are taken as truth, not only about the Roadster, but about EVs. 

Tesla goes on to say that these lies being perpetrated by Top Gear are damaging to its image, considering that the show is rebroadcast on BBC television and available over the internet. In fact, Top Gear has roughly 350 million viewers worldwide, so it's understandable why Tesla is a bit protective of its "baby".

Most enthusiasts who watch Top Gear know not to take everything that the show portrays as gospel, but Tesla isn't taking any chances with this lawsuit -- even if it comes two years after the original episode first aired...

Updated 3/30/2011 @ 11:45am EST

The BBC has responded to Tesla Motors' lawsuit, stating that it will "vigorously defend" Top Gear's claims.



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RE: What is the Truth?
By FITCamaro on 3/30/2011 8:19:01 AM , Rating: 1
I would respond to their lawsuit with "Would you like some cheese to go with that?"


RE: What is the Truth?
By mcnabney on 3/30/2011 9:09:33 AM , Rating: 5
Tesla has a valid point though. They have documented that some of the negative things concerning breakdowns was actually writen into the script before the cars even showed up to be tested. That piece of information could frame the entire review as a hatchet-job since it appears that the 'results' fit the conclusions that the writing staff made before they even touched the car.


RE: What is the Truth?
By BSMonitor on 3/30/11, Rating: 0
RE: What is the Truth?
By aegisofrime on 3/30/2011 9:26:30 AM , Rating: 4
It's on the PDF document linked in the article. Page 9, point 4.

I'm not saying that their claims are true! Just linking you to it. Just in case people accuse me of that. People on the Internet can be so jumpy.


RE: What is the Truth?
By Stuka on 3/30/2011 11:29:36 AM , Rating: 4
After reading it, it would appear to me that the "script" in the claimant's document, is in fact a "transcript", as in a log of the show as aired. I believe it states this in the paragraph preceding the excerpt.

Someonee correct me if I'm wrong.


RE: What is the Truth?
By mcnabney on 3/30/2011 12:32:07 PM , Rating: 4
No lawyer would even think of offering a post-production transcript as a working script. Apparently Tesla got ahold of an actual production script and could authenticate its creation prior to the review. It is pretty damning, if true.

And bashing Tesla for battery range on the track is pretty stupid. I have watched the show and never ONCE heard them complain that they got nowhere near the rated MPG on their review cars. The episode really does seem like a hatchet-job.


RE: What is the Truth?
By Solandri on 3/30/2011 1:30:11 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
And bashing Tesla for battery range on the track is pretty stupid. I have watched the show and never ONCE heard them complain that they got nowhere near the rated MPG on their review cars. The episode really does seem like a hatchet-job.

This is the second episode of the show I've ever seen. I thought it was a good, neutral review coming out overall positive for the car. IMHO many people are too used to the sugarcoated or astroturf reviews which never say anything bad about a product. Everything has flaws and drawbacks. If a review doesn't mention them, it's not a review, it's an advertisement. A good, neutral review will highlight everything that distinguishes a product from its competitors - both good and bad. In this case, because most people have zero experience with electric performance cars, it's particularly important to highlight the biggest differences. I'd been thus far skeptical of Tesla, but watching this episode made me more likely to buy the car if I were into that sort of driving.

Bashing Tesla for the shorter battery range on the track makes perfect sense. With regular gasoline cars, if you run out of gas you take 5 min to fill it up and you're on the road again, so it doesn't really matter. With an electric, you're going to be waiting hours for a recharge. So it does matter that range is significantly lower in performance driving compared to road cruising on an electric, whereas it's not really worth mentioning with a gas car. It's touched on a legitimate contradiction between electric vehicles and performance driving - if you've got enough money to drop $100k on a performance car, you're not going to care much about how much the fuel/electricity costs. But you are going to care that you only get about 1 hour of fun driving out of it before you're forced to retire for the day to recharge.

Likewise, they highlight the poor handling performance, but also mention the simple cause - low rolling resistance tires. A track enthusiast who can afford a $100k car can simply replace those with regular tires. And they point out the car managed to match a Porsche 911's time even with the lousy tires. Its strengths (speed in the straightaways) are able to overcome its weaknesses (sloppy handling in turns). To me, that sounds like an overall positive endorsement.

The only part which was overly harsh IMHO were the mechanical breakdowns. A sample of 2 for a couple days isn't really representative; you need years of test driving to really say with much authority how reliable a car is.


RE: What is the Truth?
By W00dmann on 3/30/2011 3:23:29 PM , Rating: 2
Another balanced and well thought-out post by Solandri. Kudos.


RE: What is the Truth?
By Samus on 3/30/2011 5:50:23 PM , Rating: 5
Does anybody here actually watch Top Gear for legitimate car-buying advice?

It's an entertainment show. It doesn't neccessarily have to be accurate. It isn't news. It's allowed to express whatever opinions it wants. If you want real car reviews, read Top Gear magazine, Road & Track, etc.


RE: What is the Truth?
By UNHchabo on 3/30/2011 1:34:03 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
I have watched the show and never ONCE heard them complain that they got nowhere near the rated MPG on their review cars.


When they reviewed the Vauxhall VXR8 (sold in the US as the Pontiac G8), they complained that the gas mileage wasn't good, while showing the dashboard-indicated value: 7.6 MPG. Earlier in the same review, you can see them flash up the spedometer for a second, and at that time, the display reads 20.7 MPG.

In several of their reviews I've also heard them mention track-time fuel economy in a good way, as in "despite thrashing this car around the track, I still was able to manage 20 MPG with this hatchback!"


RE: What is the Truth?
By SoCalBoomer on 3/30/2011 5:11:29 PM , Rating: 2
They do talk about lower mileage gained on the track. The Ferraris, Lambos, etc. typically get about FOUR MPG (or less!) on the track - they talked about this pretty extensively on their MPG episode - where they raced a Prius against an M5 (M5 just had to keep up) and then compared the mileage.

It's a well known fact that cars get a LOT lower mileage on the TG-UK track. They thrash cars there - it's one reason why they didn't get access to a Veyron for a long time. . .

It sounds like you've watched one or two episodes. Granted, they don't talk about MPG every episode, but several times they have talked about how hard they are on cars on their track. So, since you never ONCE heard them talk about it only means you haven't watched that many episodes. I've seen every single one (since series 1) and they have talked about it a number of times, even mocking Jeremy's Ford GT's extremely low MPG and unreliability. . .


RE: What is the Truth?
By Aloonatic on 3/31/2011 5:22:48 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
And bashing Tesla for battery range on the track is pretty stupid. I have watched the show and never ONCE heard them complain that they got nowhere near the rated MPG on their review cars. The episode really does seem like a hatchet-job.
You clearly missed the half season or so when Clarkson bought a Ford GT only to be constantly ridiculed by May and Hammond because Clarkson lived further away from the studio than the car could go on a complete tank of petrol.

I'm curious out the script thing too. As far as I was aware, they used to test the cars before (sometimes waaay before) they filmed the indoor parts of the show where they commented on them. That's why the cars that they stand next to are often different colours to the cars that they tested, and the weather on the test track is nothing like the weather that it would have been on the day of filming, which is often on the Thursday before the show is aired on the Sunday.

I'm a little annoyed, as I just left a job where my bosses' daughter's boyfriend is a test driver on the show (and just bums around the place a fair bit of the time as they live on site), and I could have asked him a little more. Although, he's only been there for a year or so, so probably wasn't there when the Tesla tests were done.


RE: What is the Truth?
By xsilver on 3/30/2011 9:45:13 AM , Rating: 1
Ferrari do not allow their cars to be tested head to head or in a roundup with any other car.
Plus they have also been proven to ask which track the car is to be tested on and given 1 or more cars for each part of the test.

I dont actually remember reading/hearing/watching a bad ferrari review besides when they mention the newest ferrari is better than the old one.


RE: What is the Truth?
By Iaiken on 3/30/2011 9:54:14 AM , Rating: 2
They actually have a team whose job it is to test and tune their cars specifically for the Top Gear test track.

Also, if you say something bad about a Ferrari, you'll never get another Ferrari to review. So the onus is on the reviewer to provide a good review, rather than on Ferrari to provide a car worth of one.


RE: What is the Truth?
By aegisofrime on 3/30/2011 10:01:31 AM , Rating: 2
The review of the Ferrari 599 GTO wasn't exactly positive... IIRC, it was criticized for being virtually uncontrollable with the traction control off, and for being slower than the Ferrari 458 which was half its price.


RE: What is the Truth?
By Flunk on 3/30/2011 10:52:22 AM , Rating: 2
That's true, I believe they actually said that anyone who buys one is an idiot.


RE: What is the Truth?
By BZDTemp on 3/30/2011 11:31:23 AM , Rating: 2
Which is not the first time the knock Ferrari. For example they borrowed an Enzo from some rock star (Pete Townsend I think but not sure). They liked the car put also made a point in telling how little it had been used and that the visiting Rock Star left in a helicopter.


RE: What is the Truth?
By UNHchabo on 3/30/2011 1:38:25 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
they borrowed an Enzo from some rock star (Pete Townsend I think but not sure).


It was Nick Mason, drummer of Pink Floyd.

The conclusion at the end of the review was the same conclusion that they've given to many Ferraris over the past few years: a technically brilliant car that takes itself too seriously to be any fun.


RE: What is the Truth?
By BZDTemp on 3/30/2011 3:04:20 PM , Rating: 2
You're right it was Mason. Thank you.

In a way I think super cars have become to good or rather they have become to good for drivers but maybe not for those wanting them as statements of wealth.

It's like what fun it is to drive on public roads one something where the performance levels are so beyond what can be used. In a way it's much more fun to be in a car where you can accelerate up through the gears without fear of jail time and where it's possible to drift a little without having to go crazy speeds.


RE: What is the Truth?
By Spuke on 4/1/2011 3:52:54 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
In a way it's much more fun to be in a car where you can accelerate up through the gears without fear of jail time and where it's possible to drift a little without having to go crazy speeds.
I like the way you worded this. BUT, for me, it's NOT more fun to drive a "slow" car fast. I've owned nothing but "slow" cars and my present one is, finally, the real deal. This car is eminently more fun than any of my previous cars and I've had some fun the previous one's for sure.


RE: What is the Truth?
By chick0n on 3/30/2011 10:19:48 AM , Rating: 1
Let me guess, you've never watched Best Motoring ?

they did a lot of "roundup" with Ferrari against other "supercars"


RE: What is the Truth?
By chiadog on 3/30/2011 12:04:51 PM , Rating: 2
The Ferraris and Lambs on the show usually are privately owned cars, not press cars. Read the credits.


RE: What is the Truth?
RE: What is the Truth?
By Sivar on 3/30/2011 11:17:42 AM , Rating: 3
Ferrari essentially maintains North Korea-like control over the press regarding their cars:

How Ferrari Spins:
http://jalopnik.com/#!5760248/how-ferrari-spins


RE: What is the Truth?
By aegisofrime on 3/30/2011 9:24:42 AM , Rating: 2
I actually went to read the claims document to see the relevant information about this part.

Basically, one Don Cochrane, Tesla UK Director of Sales & Marketing was in the studio before the car was driven. He happened to see the script with the words, "It's just a shame that in a real world, it absolutely doesn't work" Now, with no physical evidence, it's just his words against Top Gear's.

The thing about Top Gear is that, being funded with public funds, they are able to say it as it is, without fear of the plug being pulled because of an offended car manufacturer. As fans of the show will tell you, other cars have received far more scathing reviews that would have (and may actually have) condemned cars to the bargain bin (or whatever it is for cars)


RE: What is the Truth?
By Scabies on 3/30/2011 12:32:35 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
"It's just a shame that in a real world, it absolutely doesn't work"

Taken out of context that line could mean anything. I haven't seen the review, but far and away the largest problem of any EV is how it is limited to a certain radius from your home (unless you have a four hour pitstop planned somewhere.)

Which is unrealistic. Thus, "in the real world, it absolutely doesn't work."


RE: What is the Truth?
By Aloonatic on 3/31/2011 1:04:48 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
The thing about Top Gear is that, being funded with public funds, they are able to say it as it is, without fear of the plug being pulled because of an offended car manufacturer. As fans of the show will tell you, other cars have received far more scathing reviews that would have (and may actually have) condemned cars to the bargain bin (or whatever it is for cars)
Most of the recent incarnation Top Gear has been about super cars and prestigious saloons etc but they have reviewed more "every day" cars in the past, and there is no guarantee that they will give a good review just because it burns petrol.

It's all down to the manufacturer and how they take those reviews though. I seem to recall that a Ford car (might have been an early Mondeo) got a really bad review, but Ford took the criticism on board (no doubt Top Gear weren't the only people to pick fault with it) and sent back a new version a year or so later which the Top Gear team liked a lot, especially as Ford had heeded the comments made by journalists. Ford earned a lot of good will and respect for how they handled the situation too.

I can't help but think that Tesla might be better off coming back a year later with a car that they can cram down Clarkson's throat, rather than running off to mommy to say that the bad is saying nasty things about them. Or do they know that the former is not possible, so are having to go with the latter? To give Clarkson and the Top Gear crew credit, they are men enough to eat their own words if people come back at them with a decent reply.


RE: What is the Truth?
By DanNeely on 3/30/2011 10:59:52 AM , Rating: 2
Was is the only version of the script they wrote? Writing several variants to fit the actual test results seems reasonable to me as a time saver, then just pick the one that's closest to the results and tweak as needed.


RE: What is the Truth?
By BZDTemp on 3/30/2011 11:46:23 AM , Rating: 4
Even if that is the so they have no case. Top Gear is not an advertiser they payed to represent them nor are they a competitor doing a negative add.

Tesla was hoping for free advertising and got something else and now they try and mess with a show that has millions of fans of whom many was also potential customers. EPIC FAIL.


RE: What is the Truth?
By YashBudini on 3/30/2011 1:33:28 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Tesla has a valid point though.

You have to wonder how honest this show would have been if it was around in the 60's/70's when Lucas Electronics made every vehicle that used their parts a non-running running joke of a car.


RE: What is the Truth?
By Omega215D on 3/30/2011 7:00:47 PM , Rating: 3
They presented the Tesla Roadster in a comedic light, but nothing they said was patently false. The range they presented was based on their usage on the track, as they said. The second car went into reduced power mode to keep from really overheating. And when they went back to the first car, the power brakes were inoperable due to a blown fuse. Neither car was immobile, but nor were they useful for track testing.


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