The manufacturers of a high-profile electric car are suing the British Broadcasting Corporation for libel. The claim follows an episode of motoring TV show Top Gear that Tesla says lied about the performance of a Roadster vehicle in a test.
The case involves a December 2008 episode: Tesla says it has previously complained to the BBC about the edition with no response, and the lawsuit stems from the fact that the episode continues to be shown on reruns, sold to overseas stations and sold on DVD.
Part of the episode included a road test and review of the Roadster model, including a film in which the vehicle was shown to break down after running out of power. The segment concluded with host Jeremy Clarkson saying the Roadster was “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.”
There are three main points to the lawsuit. The first is that Clarkson used the words “although Tesla say it will do 200 miles we worked out that on our track it would run out after just 55 miles.” Tesla believes that not only is the show’s calculation inaccurate (apparently based on “aggressive” rather than normal driving), but that the broadcast implied Tesla had lied about the vehicle’s capacity.
The second point is that, having made this calculation, Top Gear decided to simulate the car running out of charge and film a mock-up of such an event. In fact, Tesla claims, neither of the test cars it provided ran out of charge.
The third point is that, according to Tesla, the show lied about one vehicle’s motor overheating and the other’s brakes being broken, in both cases leaving the vehicles undriveable.
As well as suing for libel, Tesla has issued a claim for malicious falsehood. This covers situations where untrue claims are not defamatory (that is, they don’t lower the public opinion of the person or organization involved) but still cause financial damage.
In response to the claims, the BBC said, “We can confirm that we have received notification that Tesla have issued proceedings against the BBC. The BBC stands by the programme and will be vigorously defending this claim.”