Electric carmaker Tesla Motors has filed suit against the BBC over a Top Gear television show episode that portrayed a Tesla Roadster that purportedly ran out of electricity and stopped on the show’s test circuit while racing a gas powered Lotus Elise.
The show aired in December 2008, but continues to appear on the Internet, a Top Gear DVD, and on repeats of the show.
Tesla is alleging libel and malicious falsehood, and is seeking to enjoin the BBC from any further broadcasting or publication of the episode.
While some of the host’s commentary was positive – “This car is electric, literally,” the episode showed the Roadster stopped on the track after it had allegedly lost its charge. A second Roadster was shown sitting on the track while the voiceover announcer explained that it suffered an overheated motor. He concluded by saying, “I did think the Teslas would bring a bit of peace and quiet to our track with their electric motors, but I didn’t think it would be this much peace and quiet, though. The sound of silence. The first electric car that you might actually want to buy, it’s just a shame that in the real world, it doesn’t seem to work.”
In its suit, Tesla claims that several aspects of the show were defamatory, including the comment that “although Tesla says it will do 200 miles, we worked out that on our track it would run out after just 55 miles,” and the depiction of one Roadster that ran out of charge and a second that was immobile as a result of an overheated motor.
Tesla also claims that BBC exhibited evidence of their false portrayal in an inconsistent interview and press release after the episode aired.
To read the complaint in Tesla v. BBC, click here.
Why it matters: In a press release, Tesla emphasized that it filed the suit not for monetary damages, but to stop the episode from continuing to air, and that it made repeated attempts to contact the BBC asking it to correct the record and stop rebroadcasting the episode. In a statement, the BBC said it “stands by the program and will be vigorously defending this claim.”