Tesla Sues Top Gear Show for Libel, Malicious Falsehood

Wed Mar 30, 2011 1:07am EDT

Electric car company Tesla 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.

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