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Tesla Sues Top Gear Show for Libel, Malicious Falsehood

Electric car company Tesla (s TSLA) is no stranger to lawsuits, and is now involved in yet another one that could end up being pretty high-profile. On Tuesday, Tesla slapped the BBC show Top Gear with a lawsuit for libel and malicious falsehood.

There was a lot of controversy over Top Gear’s show on the Roadster when it came out two years ago and  featured the crew of the show pushing a Roadster by hand into a hangar and ended the segment by saying the Roadster didn’t seem to work in the real world.

Tesla says in its suit that Top Gear‘s show about the Roadster inaccurately portrayed the Tesla Roadster as having a 55-mile battery range (it’s got a 200-mile range); that Top Gear falsely showed the Roadster having to be pushed into a hangar by people after the battery was drained (Tesla says it wasn’t out of power); and Top Gear incorrectly said the brakes of one Roadster were broken while the other Roadster overheated (Tesla says neither of those things happened). Tesla specifically names Top Gear executive producer Andrew Wilman, researcher Gavin Whitehead, and presenter Jeremy Clarkson, in the lawsuit.

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. Just last week, when I was at Tesla’s Model S alpha build tour, an auto reporter did mention the Top Gear Roadster show. Reyes didn’t look happy.

At the same time, Tesla has been involved in more lawsuits than most Silicon Valley firms I’ve written about in my career. There was the lawsuit Tesla filed against competitor Fisker for allegedly stealing its design ideas and trade secrets. There was a suit filed by Magna accusing Tesla of two counts of breach of contract for allegedly failing to pay Magna for transmission work. There was a class action suit from former employee David Vespremi against Tesla for breach of contract, libel and slander. And there was the high-profile suit that Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard’s filed against Tesla, and its current CEO, Elon Musk. Tesla’s lawyers are busy.

16 Responses to “Tesla Sues Top Gear Show for Libel, Malicious Falsehood”

  1. Even with the 55-mile jab, that’s still 5 more miles than the Volt, and doesn’t require a government subsidy to be sold for a reasonable price…

    • The Volt has a small gas engine that will recharge the battery and power the car well beyond 50 Miles. And seriously, this Tesla is well over twice the cost of the Volt

  2. Hi Katie,

    I was wondering if you have driven a Roadster and if not, why not book a test drive? I’m sure the folks across the bridge at Menlo Park would bend over backwards to accommodate you and (assuming you are a driver… heck, even if you aren’t!) I suspect you will be absolutely thrilled by the experience. I look forward to reading about it!

    Regards, Martin Winlow
    Herts, UK.

  3. i’ll say it up front i am a Top Gear fan, BUT i will say there is a case for both.
    Tesla cars can do 200 miles to a charge, thats true on public roads at cruising speed, on the track however top gear correctly said it got 55 miles. as they were driving at the limit, what top gear did NOT do was state the circumstances of that power consumption. NOR did they specify what problem the brakes were having, they have a history of saying things are broken jeremy clarkson loves to say “its all broken!” when it clearly isn’t.

    Tesla’s problem is they are a scrappy company, they love to get in fights so they can prove themselves. Top gear (who likes to stir the pot) has freedom of speech and Tesla loaned them the car knowing full well top gears reputation for 5 years of thrashing cars they don’t like. in any business and any activity there will be people who will say rude things. you have to take it, you can’t sue everyone who has an opinion.

    i train dogs, and other trainers love to sling mud.. i can’t sue them for that, all i can do is work to disprove thier allegations.

    and all tesla are going to do is lose more business by taking on a popular institution like top gear. nothing good will come from a scrap like this.

  4. @pk de cville, I did see the show. Multiple times. If I were a personified court of law I’d side with Tesla. That has nothing to do with me acknowledging that they have been engaged in multiple law suits over the past few years. Just a fact.

  5. Really? Four lawsuits over the life of Tesla (eight years) is more than most Silicon Valley companies that you write about? One lawsuit every two years?

    Have you never written about Apple, or Microsoft, or Toshiba, or HP, or Google, or Electronic Arts, or….

    Or any of the companies mentioned here:

    Apple alone got hit with 27 lawsuits in 2009:

    I’m very surprised.

  6. pk de cville

    Hi Katie,

    I don’t know if you saw the show in question, but they totally crushed Tesla in a very cool, snide, and dismissive way. This is not a close call about them exercising some journalistic objectivity (If you believe Tesla, that is.).

    So, If Tesla’s telling the truth, I say gore the ‘great’ team that did this. I know I’m sounding like I’ve pre-judged the issue, but I’m in the US and the case is in GB. I’m very interested in Tesla having its day in court and see which side has the legal problem.

    Thanks for your report and comment.

  7. Last year the German Energy Provider RWE casted two students who drove a Tesla ~ 4000 km from Essen (Germany) to Istanbul (Turkey)in order to promote electro mobility. Can’t believe that the car is not fit for practical use. The tour has been documented on-the-fly via social media like facebook twitter and a blog.

  8. pk de cville


    Are you long Top Gear?

    If Tesla can prove their allegations to be true, Top Gear owes them a lot in reputation and destroyed customer interest.

    Who cares about the other lawsuits? I’ve seen that report and it totally killed my appetite for buying a Tesla. I’d guess that the show did the same for 1000s of viewers.

    Fortunately, in England, you have to pay for your lies and Tesla will have the opportunity to argue their case.

    Bravo for the truth, however it plays out.