How We See It - Top Gear Lawsuit

How We See It - Top Gear Lawsuit

On March 29 2011, Tesla filed a lawsuit to stop Top Gear’s continued rebroadcasts of an episode containing malicious falsehoods about the Tesla Roadster. Top Gear’s Executive Producer, Andy Wilman, has drafted a blog to present their side of the story. Like the episode itself, however, his proclamations do more to confound than enlighten.

Mr. Wilman admits that Top Gear wrote the script before filming the testing of the Roadsters. The script in question, concluding with the line "in the real world, it absolutely doesn’t work" was lying around on set while Top Gear was allegedly "testing" the Roadsters. It seems actual test results don’t matter when the verdict has already been given -- even if it means staging tests to meet those predetermined conclusions.

Now Mr. Wilman wants us to believe that when Top Gear concluded that the Roadster "doesn't work," it "had nothing to do with how the Tesla performed." Are we to take this seriously? According to Mr. Wilman, when Top Gear said the car "doesn't work," they "primarily" meant that it was too expensive. Surely they could have come to that conclusion without staging misleading scenes that made the car look like it didn’t work.

Mr. Wilman's other contentions are just as disingenuous. He states that they never said the Roadster "ran out of charge." If not, why were four men shown pushing it into the hangar?

Mr. Wilman states that "We never said that the Tesla was completely immobilized as a result of the motor overheating." If not, why is the Roadster depicted coming to a stop with the fabricated sound effect of a motor dying?

Mr. Wilman also objects to Tesla explaining our case, and the virtues of the Roadster. Top Gear has been re-broadcasting lies about the Roadster for years, yet are uncomfortable with Tesla helping journalists set the record straight about the Roadster’s revolutionary technology.

Mr. Wilman seems to want Top Gear to be judged neither by what it says, nor by what it does. Top Gear needs to provide its viewers, and Tesla, straightforward answers to these questions.

Timo | April 19, 2011

I trust what Tesla has said about things. Also I know what Roadster can do, so proving misinformation is no the question here, question is only is it worth compensation and if so how much and/or what kind.

qwk | April 19, 2011

I want to know how many people here have pushed thier driveable ICE car that had 1/4 tank of gas for fun/comedy?

scswickman | April 23, 2011

A couple of thoughts come to mind.

First of all, people often disguise really nasty motives/thoughts with "I was just kidding." The So. Cal. politician that blasted an email with Obama's face on a chimpanzee (swearing that such act was not racially-motivated) comes to mind. Point being, there are limits to the "humor license." When you use mass media to disparage a company's product via false "facts," you are playing with fire. TG had to know that when they produced this episode, yet they chose to (repeatedly) run same, with the ultimate goal of increasing viewership/income.

It is pretty clear (to me, at least) that the TG episode on the Roadster was the result of the fact that (1) Tesla is American, not British, and (2) Tesla (and EVs in general) threatens the ICE/petroleum status quo, in which TG, whether they will admit it or not, is deeply mired. Not sure if I would go so far as to accuse TG of taking petrodollars in exchange for blasting EVs, but, at the very least, asking TG to love an EV is like asking a dog to meow.

Just my .02.

MyCarQuest | April 26, 2011

It has gone very quite on the Tesla/Top Gear lawsuit front. They must be negotiating in private now.

I agree with scswickman that TG does seem to favor ICE over the electric. But changes happen and we all must adjust with the times.

Timo | May 9, 2011

Blueberries message is a spam, copy&paste from earlier message. Everybody flag Blueberries messages.

Spee-d | May 12, 2011

I just watched the TG 10 min video on-line, and I watched the 7 min 5th Gear video on-line.
A few points that I'd like to bring up -
If you drive the Roadster "Green", you'll get 200+ (maybe even 311) miles on a full charge.
If you drive the Roadster "Hard", you'll get fewer miles.

The same is true for any ICE or Hybrid vehicle. If you drive around with your foot ground into the floor, you're not going to get double digit mpg in a Ferrari, even though it may claim 17 mpg for highway mileage on the window sticker.

In fact, other than my Ford Fusion Hybrid, which exceeds the sticker claims over my first 7.5k miles, I've never owned a car that got what the sticker claimed, because I never drove "Green" before.

That being said, the Roadster is a "Green" car, a fun car, and an attractive car.

Both TG and 5th Gear comment on positives and negatives about the Roadster. No one said that the Roadster is the next "perfect car" (not even Tesla). They both said that it's an incredible EV car.
Tesla didn't advertise the Roadster as a "track" car, or a "race" car, it's a two-seater convertible sports car. It's designed for a fun afternoon of driving, and that's what it delivers, hands-down.

Anyone who wants to drive a 500 mile race around a track needs to look at NASCAR, where they design their engines to last about 700 miles. The Roadster is designed to last! If you're going to buy a Roadster, you're going to treasure it, drive it with pride, and if ou want to go on an extended trip with it (beyond the 200 mile range), then you just need to plan your stops appropriately.

Tesla has charging stations at all of its stores, and in addition, is forming a partnership with certain hotels so that you can charge while you stay over.

I think that TG and 5th Gear both presented the "negatives" of the Roadster, but TG simply took a lot more "artistic license" in their presentation, and that is what TM is disappointed about. The defamation of the Roadster doesn't come from the fact that TG says it only gets 55 miles when you drive it under track conditions. It comes because they show people literally pushing the car, when in fact, the car is smart enough to get into an energy saving mode when you push it too hard, or get close to empty, to help you to get to a charging station.

In 5th Gear's drive, they went about 150 miles, plus the track laps, and had 8 miles left on the battery. It's true that isn't a 400 mile tank, but if you're using the car to commute, or even for a day trip, most people can get "there and back" in ~200 miles.

I can't wait to test drive the Roadster on Saturday!

Timo | May 12, 2011

"Artistic license" as in "they lied as much as they could".

TG is doing it again, just now for Peugeot iOn and a Nissan Leaf.

Cross-country driving in EV:s that are certainly not meant to do that. That's pretty deliberate bashing of EV reputation. I wonder how much Big Oil stocks TG bosses have.

Spee-d | May 13, 2011

Green cars aren't for everyone... And electric cars definitely aren't for everyone.

But, I will say this... when you drive your ICE, and the little fuel light comes on and says you have 50 miles left to empty, don't you start looking for a gas station?

The same thing holds true for an electric car, if it says you're running out of charge, go look for a place to plug in.
And, make sure that you plan your route intelligently so that you'll have appropriate charging stations along the way.

I think that one of the biggest drawback to electric cars right now is that there are gas stations distributed in close proximity all over the country (US), whereas the electric charging stations might only be 1 or 2 per city, depending on the arrangements that TM has made. In addition, you can fill your tank with gas in 5-15 minutes, whereas you fill your batteries with electricity in 3-8 hours.

Going forward into the future, as more manufacturers offer purely electric cars, or plug-in hybrids, and the demand for the electric charging stations increases, the number of stations will increase.

Big Oil companies definitely have a lot to lose with the success of the electric cars. But, instead of trying to squash the competition, they should get on board, the way that Toyota/Lexus was the pioneer in the Hybrid market.

One other comment about the electric cars... if you are using it to commute (let's say 40 miles/day), and you top off your battery every night while you sleep, you've always got a full range the next day. In your ICE vehicle, you only have a full range when you pull out of the gas station, so every other morning that you wake up, you have less than a full range available to you. As long as your total daily drive is less than the range available in your electric car, you never need to worry about running out of energy.

For the long trips out of town, the electric might not be the optimal vehicle of choice, picking a fuel efficient hybrid could do the trick. Let's say you want to take a 640 mile trip. I can do that on a single tank of gas in my Fusion Hybrid (with a drop of gas to spare). If I'm driving 64 mph, that's 10 hours of driving (a very long, but doable day). If I were to try that same trip with the Roadster, let's call it 200 miles per charge, that's 3.25 charges, which means on top of the 10 hours of driving, we'd need an extra 8-10 hours of charging. Tesla never claimed that the Roadster was designed for this type of trip, and shouldn't be bashed for not being able to drive it effectively.

Roblab | May 19, 2011

Just to remind people, about number of gas stations.
I live in a town of 3500 people: About 1500 houses. There is one gas stations about 2 miles from me.
Gas stations for gas cars: One. Open til 8PM. 2 miles away.
Power stations for EVs: Over 1000. Open all night. Many with L2 charging. Located outside my door.

Personally, when I had my RAV4EV, I charged away from home less than a dozen times in 6 years.

You ain't gonna need chargers on every corner. If I had been looking for power stations in Britain, I'll bet you 1) I could have found plenty of them, and 2) I would not have run out of charge. Clarkson is a buffoon. He was noted running around and around in town *in order to* run out of charge, on campus, so they could make a scene in the most populated area.

Trnsl8r | June 6, 2011

I don't like what Top Gear did one bit (and I am a fan of the show) and I think Tesla had to do something about the misinformation/skew of the piece, but I have to admit that a law suit was probably not the best approach. A wise PR manager should have been able to come up with a series of better responses, for example putting Elon Musk on the show for an interview (and on the track in a "reasonably priced car and all that) with a more tounge in cheek response. I am afraid the law suit will be dismissed by the public, if not by the court, as a very California thing to do.

oskin | June 16, 2011

I used to be a big fan of both Tesla and Top Gear, and I was considering Model S as my next car.

Tesla is suppose to be hip, fun, and exciting. However, seeing some of comments by people here, it makes me realize Tesla is not the brand I want to be associated with.

Jaffray | June 29, 2011

Sounds good oskin...don't worry, some (very lucky) other individual will greatly enjoy driving your (former) state-of-the-art Modle S with great enthusiasm!

Dont let the door...

daniel1948 | July 1, 2011

If a widely-distributed show like Top Gear wants to present comedy fiction using actual cars as the butt of jokes, it should broadcast a disclaimer saying "These are not actual test results. This is comedy and bears no resemblance to the actual performance of the cars."

When they present their show as actual reviews of cars, while they are entitled to present any opinions they like, it is a breach of faith with their viewers, and slander or libel against the companies whose cars are shown, when they misrepresent the actual facts. And in the case of the Tesla Roadster, they lied about the facts.

There's no excuse. Especially when they are lying about a company that is struggling to bring a new and revolutionary kind of car to market.

Larry Chanin | September 10, 2011

Here's a series that was started to deal with EV disinformation as epitomized by the Top Gear Roadster "review".


aki009 | September 11, 2011

That review was really good compared to how they tear apart even the best well rounded sports cars on a daily basis.

Drop the suit or settle for a retest using the latest Roadster. Anything else is just silly.

Timo | September 11, 2011

They lied in that "review" they made. That's intolerable, no matter what car they use, electric or otherwise. Too many people take their "reviews" seriously for that to let go, I have been forced to point out their lies too many times. If they would precede their "reviews" with disclaimer "this review will be pure fiction and has been tweaked to represent the predetermined views show script writers" then it would be OK.

VolkerP | September 14, 2011

Any information on the court case? I hear it's settled by now, but to what result?

Brian H | September 14, 2011

The court awarded $1 million to Top Gear because Tesla said bad things about them.


Just kidding!!

Tritium8 | September 15, 2011

@Larry oh you found Mr. Llewellyn too... i like him. He's the reason i'm so "charged up" about electric cars .)
REd Dwarf ftw!!!


Larry Chanin | September 16, 2011


Yes, I find him entertaining and balanced, although not very technical. I think that his series is suited to the typical consumer, rather than rabid enthusiasts. ;-)


MyCarQuest | November 14, 2011

There was a ruling in the UK courts. I have not heard what Tesla thinks but I wish they would have listened to my advice on my blog.

nsxpowered | November 17, 2011

People watch Top Gear to see unrealistic and imaginative points of view. That is why the show is so dynamic and interesting to watch. I don't think that episode will change the minds of any interested buyers. Just look at the Nissan Leaf. Only 70 miles range, it still sells. As long as the car works as designed, no customers will be surprised and will be happy with their purchase. If the Model S can only muster 100 miles range when it's proclaimed at 200 miles, there may be widespread discontent.

Larry Chanin | November 20, 2011

"People watch Top Gear to see unrealistic and imaginative points of view. That is why the show is so dynamic and interesting to watch. I don't think that episode will change the minds of any interested buyers."

I hope you are right, but it seem that Elon doesn't share your feelings.

From The Detroit News:$65M-third-quarter-loss--beats-expectations

Musk complained that Roadster sales are disproportionately lower sales in the United Kingdom because of "the continuing adverse impact on the Roadster via reruns of 'Top Gear,' the UK's leading car show." "As a result, we had an excess inventory of right-hand drive versions of the Roadster and continue to incur additional costs to correct the consumer misperception," Musk said.


Brian H | November 20, 2011

The mistake was letting Top Gear have access to the car in the first place.

Vawlkus | November 21, 2011


Whoever suggested letting those morons have a look at Model S should be shot. They've bad mouthed every EV that has been loaned to them with outright lies and actions that even a 5 year old would call retarded. They don't deserve to get access to ANY car, ESPECIALLY not the Model S.

Kallisman | November 22, 2011

Denying them to test drive a car has been tried before. It only made them more interested in testing, and bad mouthing it, so they went to a dealership under cover and took a test drive with hidden camera. I think it was a small Rover.

jackhub | November 22, 2011

Has anyone else come across comments prefaced with 'top gear' used as an adjective? Like, that's a 'top gear' take. It sort of puts the phrase 'top gear' synonymous with misleading or deceptive.

Brian H | November 23, 2011

How 'bout as a verb?
'Watch out or they'll Top Gear you!'
Or a noun (plural only)?
'They're not just giving you the gears, they're giving you the Top Gears!'

But an adverb doesn't sound quite right:
'They reported Top Gearily."
Odd, but comprehensible ...

jackhub | November 24, 2011

@Brian H, I love the verb form Thanks!!

Brian H | February 19, 2012
jackhub | February 19, 2012

Top Gear is now airing its programing on Public Television in the US. I suspect one episode they will not show in the US is the Tesla one. Us law is quite different in the US on this subject. If it is aired in the US, Top Gear would be subject to the rulinhg of US law.

Sudre_ | February 24, 2012

jackhub, why did you let the cat out of the bag.

I have already seen that episode in the US on Dish Network BBC channel long ago. If you are right I would think that Tesla would already be in court. Maybe they have decided to just let it

jackhub | February 24, 2012

I don't believe Top Gear could meet the legal standards of the US with this show. For that reason, I don't expect to see it in the US. They don't dare expose themselves.

rd2 | April 4, 2012

I think TM could successfully sue BBC for libel in the US. My corporate litigation attorney wife has watched the show, and thinks a libel case in the US would turn out quite differently than what happened in the UK.

Sudre_ | April 11, 2012

jackhub, I've seen this particular show on BBC America (that's in the US). It is a double edge sword. While I didn't even consider buying a Roaster, it did let me know about Tesla..... and here I am buying a Model S.

Brian H | April 12, 2012

"There's no such thing as bad publicity!"?

DHrivnak | April 14, 2012

I agree that most any publicity is good publicity. I saw the Top Gear video and it helped me decide to buy the Roadster. Blazing performance and no real problems uncovered. I had to go back to really see the purported issue with the range.

Timo | April 15, 2012

I don't think the "range" was the only reason that lawsuit was made, more like the last straw. They lied during the shoot of the "review" about many things. For example both cars could be driven at all times, neither run out of juice. Also whole scene was staged to match predetermined outcome which had been written before they even had the cars: Clarkson comment "it doesn't work in real life" was in the script. I got furious about that episode. Enough to stop me from watching TG ever again.

BYT | April 17, 2012

I wonder if they (Top Gear) will attempt to review the Model S when the time comes?

Larry Chanin | April 23, 2012

Also whole scene was staged to match predetermined outcome which had been written before they even had the cars: Clarkson comment "it doesn't work in real life" was in the script. I got furious about that episode. Enough to stop me from watching TG ever again. - Timo

Yes,I used to watch top gear, not anymore. I found it pure mindless entertainment, but I never considered it a car review show. However, deliberately staging the results to match their erroneous preconceptions takes it beyond entertainment value.


jerry3 | April 23, 2012

Nah, it just matches the news :-)

BYT | April 26, 2012

I get my news from Comedy Central as I find it more honest.

Brian H | April 26, 2012

And your comedy from MSNBC?


BYT | April 30, 2012

You must laugh to keep from crying they say?

cprenzl | August 13, 2012

I don't think tesla should worry about them rebroadcasting it. For many of us, such as I, found out about tesla though top gear. I am a Huge Tesla fan and a top gear fan, If you have watched top ever you would know that it is more of a comedy with some huge opinions and some facts. The show is basically run by Jeramy Clarkson and he is the definition of a bias person who believes stereotypes. Nobody watches Top Gear for the facts!

Forever TSLA

Timo | August 13, 2012

I wish people would not watch TG for facts, but unfortunately that is not true. I had to correct peoples opinions about things about zillion times after that show appeared. Way too many (loud) people took all those lies as facts. After seeing that episode I think there is no facts in the TG show whatsoever. Everything is scripted and predetermined before they even get the cars in their hands.

Tiebreaker | August 17, 2012

"It was on TV. It must be true!"

yargk | February 14, 2013

I support electric cars to the point where I have made it part of my career to do research on pseudocapacitor technology. I respect Tesla's automobiles and hope their business booms and development continues. However, I think Tesla's reaction to Top Gear is misguided.

The Tesla Roadster is a sports car. It was advertised as such and its performance was arguably the biggest selling point. Sports cars are designed to be driven fast and hard for extended periods, that's the whole point. I would argue that to sell a car that is that fast and say otherwise is not only disingenuous, but irresponsible. Why? Because the alternative to driving the car hard on a race track would be to drive it hard in short burst on the street, which is dangerous, especially without driver experience in the controlled environment of a racetrack.

Regardless of the safety issues, all other sports cars tested by Top Gear are subjected to the same punishment. If the brakes fail, Top Gear chides them. If they break, Top Gear complains. Why should the Tesla Roadster have a special, easier test for it? You can argue that it's a street car and shouldn't have to hold up to this type of abuse. But Corvettes, Porsches, and even Honda Civics, all much cheaper, can take it and drive home. The 55 mile range under these conditions, IS an issue because the car takes so long on standard outlets to charge. A gasoline automobile uses more fuel on the racetrack and often gets only 7 mpg, but filling takes minutes. The overheating is an issue. Who wants to be racing around a track with their friend in the lotus and all of sudden he leaves you in the dust because you're in limp mode again? I don't think anything needs to be said about the necessity of good brakes.

An alternate response to Top Gear would have been the following. "The car is in constant development because we are doing something that no one has done before by building a fun mass produced electric sports car. We are developing better engine cooling systems that will be available as a retrofit for owners who have experienced issues. We are working with racetracks in California to get the fastest electric chargers available installed. We are redesigning the brakes..." I could go on, but this type of response looks much better that suing Top Gear. Tesla should rise to the challenge. If Tesla builds a car that can't be broken and you can quick charge at the track, Top Gear can't complain. Stubborn as the are, I'd think they'd eat their words. But the legal response from Tesla makes me doubt that they'd make a car I'd ever be interested in. (which would be a track worthy electric sports car, still comfortable enough to commute in)


yargk | February 14, 2013

By the way, if you say it does work at a track, I'm local and willing to meet you at Laguna Seca or Sonoma anytime. Cheers!

googlepeakoil | June 28, 2013

Tesla should have persued 2 courses of action in my opinion:
1. You take it to the Board of Governors:
They are a committe that investigates complaints about programs.

Also, I think your lawyers did a very poor job for you - I am curious if they are aware of the BBC's OWN editorial guidelines!
They are NOT referenced in the lawsuit as far as I can see.
It is much easier to catch them in a lie if they state they are not allowed to lie / mislead!

Section 3 - Accuracy:
3.4.11 - Avoiding misleading audiences:
We must not knowingly and materially mislead our audiences with our content. We may need to clarify the nature of some content by labeling (for example, verbally, in text or with visual or audio cues) to avoid being misleading.

... if they claim the program is entertainment as they did your point is that defamation of a person for entertainment is not allowed, a company deserves the same rights. In many laws a company/person are interchangeable.

The BBC have been caught in many controversies in the last few years: most famously the Andrew Sachs phone call.