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Tesla losing Top Gear court challenge

Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson speaking to camera after the Tesla ran its battery flat on the Top Gear test track.

Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson speaking to camera after the Tesla ran its battery flat on the Top Gear test track.

Published Oct 21, 2011


In football parlance, the half-time score in the London High Court match between electric car company Tesla and the BBC's Top Gear programme stands at Top Gear 1, Tesla 0.

Tesla is suing Top Gear for, among other things, broadcasting footage in a 2008 programme that showed a Tesla Roadster running its battery flat after only 88km at racing speeds on Top Gear's airfield circuit.

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Tesla claims that the insert was "staged" and that a Tesla should be good for about 320km on a charge, driven normally.

But on Wednesday Mr Justice Tughendat ruled that nobody could reasonably compare the car's range on the track to its likely performance on a public road.

Interestingly, the fact that the Roadster did in fact stop after only 88km has no bearing on the case. Tesla argued that Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson, by mentioning Telsa's claims of a 320km range at that point, implied that Tesla was misleading the public.

Not so, said the judge.

"The words complained of are wholly incapable of conveying any meaning at all to the effect that Tesla misled anyone," he ruled.

"This is because there is a contrast between the style of driving and the nature of the track as compared with the conditions on a public road. No reasonable person could understand that the performance on the Top Gear track can be directly compared with a public road."

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The BBC isn't entirely off the hook, however; there are still five charges of malicious falsehood against Top Gear, among them that Clarkson said the car had suffered brake failure, when in fact it had blown a fuse, and that its electric motor had overheated.

Tesla says its reputation has suffered "continuing impact" because the 2008 programme is still available from the BBC's iPlayer video-on-demand service, on DVD and syndication to other broadcasters such as the SABC, which has still to show the 2008 season.

The BBC says it's a crock and the whole case should be thrown out.

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Tughendat reserved judgement, however, on the malicious falsehood claim; he's expected to return a verdict in a couple of weeks. As soon as we hear anything, so will you.

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