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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 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
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
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
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.

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson
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