An executive with the BBC show Top Gear has responded to the law suit that electric car maker Tesla delivered to it last week, accusing the show of libel and malicious falsehood. In a blog post, Top Gear Executive Producer Andy Wilman (who is named in Tesla’s suit) denies Tesla’s claims and offers explanations for some of the more controversial parts of the now infamous Top Gear Tesla Roadster review.
Tesla says in its suit that Top Gear‘s show about the Roadster inaccurately portrayed the car as having a 55-mile battery range, while it actually has a 200-mile range. Wilman says that Top Gear’s reference to a 55-mile range was specifically when being driven around Top Gear’s race track, which is running the car at high performance limits (the quote from the show is: “We calculated that on our track it would run out after 55 miles”). Wilman says the 55-mile figure actually came from Tesla itself after Top Gear provided Tesla with data about its track.
Tesla also says that Top Gear incorrectly said the brakes of one Roadster were broken while the other Roadster overheated. Wilman says one car had reduced power because of overheating, and the other car’s brakes were broken to the point where they had to be fixed before Top Gear could drive it again. The blog post doesn’t address the shot where Top Gear shows the Roadster being pushed into a hangar after seeming to run out of battery.
You’re probably wondering why Tesla took two years to go to the courts over the issue. On Tesla’s website, it says: “Tesla reluctantly took legal action after its repeated attempts to contact the BBC, over the course of months, were ignored.” In a blog post, Tesla’s VP of communications, Ricardo Reyes, writes, “At the time, we were good sports. Tesla was a young start-up company, having delivered 140 cars to customers in the United States,” and adds, “Yet the show continues to air. . . The programme’s lies are repeatedly and consistently re-broadcast to hundreds of millions of viewers on BBC channels and web sites.”
The show is wildly popular. Last month when I was at Tesla’s Model S alpha build tour, an auto reporter mentioned the Top Gear Roadster show in a group interview with Tesla executives and the media.