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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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By Donovan on 3/30/2011 12:59:51 PM , Rating: 2
* The show stated that the car would run out of charge after only 55 miles on their track, then showed a scene of it being pushed to the garage.

* The show stated that the brakes had broken. Apparently a fuse blew that affected the braking assistance.

* The show stated that the motor overheated and that power was reduced. Apparently a thermal limit was reached which triggered the automatic power reduction.

- Top Gear's interpretation -

They said the car "would" run out, not "did". The scene of them pushing it off the track was a staged example of this. The mechanical problems did, in fact, occur.

- Tesla's interpretation -

The fact that the event was staged was not clear to viewers. The mechanical problems were hyped to give the false impression that the cars were not drivable.

- My thoughts -

I think it is fair to say that the presentation of the mechanical issues was very misleading, but I'm not sure that is enough for Tesla to prevail. The staged scene of the car running out of power isn't a big deal in the context it was presented, especially when they could have kept driving until the scene became real if they felt like wasting a few hours.




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