Tesla Fails Again In Suing Top Gear For Mocking Tesla's Range

from the let-it-go dept

We’ve never quite understood the strategy of electric automaker Tesla to sue the BBC and Top Gear because of an episode that involved a Tesla roadster, which the Top Gear crew mocked, at one point claiming it only got 55 miles before the batteries ran out of juice. This was a marginally amusing segment on a show that’s known for tossing around a (somewhat joking) insult or six about lots of cars. In other words, no big deal. Except to Tesla — and specifically its founder, Elon Musk, who lashed out angrily about the show and then sued for “libel” over the episode. Apparently that strategy failed even faster than a Tesla battery* and did so twice. After having the first lawsuit tossed out, an amended lawsuit met the same fate with the judge saying that the claims were “not capable of being defamatory at all, or, if it is, it is not capable of being a sufficiently serious defamatory meaning to constitute a real and substantial tort.” In other words, go away.

The thing is, I can’t see how this made any sense at all. Most people would have just moved on, but by suing it seems to only call more attention to the original claims and generate much more interest in that episode. If Tesla had just let it go and focused on, you know, building great cars, no one would have cared much about a jokey comment from a TV show.

* This, too, is a joke, so don’t sue me for making a joke about your batteries. I’m actually a big fan of Tesla and am eagerly looking forward to the company’s future models which look pretty damn cool.

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Companies: bbc, tesla

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Comments on “Tesla Fails Again In Suing Top Gear For Mocking Tesla's Range”

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60 Comments
RadialSkid (profile) says:

Whatever Tesla’s claims are about the cars range, or indeed, whatever other Tesla test vehicles have achieved, Top Gear claimed that their specific car only went 55 miles before needing a charge, something that I’m sure everyone who works on the show would agree with.

I mean, here at least, FACTS can’t be considered libel, but then again, I’m also aware the UK is a bit looser with their definition of the term.

Jason says:

Tesla should have taken the criticism in stride and worked past it through engineering and testing solutions instead of resorting to taking it to court. Prove them wrong instead, use it for a chance to create positive publicity. Now they have to contend with what I could see as the stopgap replacement for their all-electric in the Fisker Karma which TopGear gave a particularly glowing review on.

James T (profile) says:

Re:

Yes ALL modern batteries fail to work properly when 100% discharged. Your cell phone for example can explode if it’s over charged, and will completely fail if it’s discharged. Have you ever noticed rechargeable batteries always seem to come with some amount of charge? These are facts. Not all batteries have the same types of issues.

Why then do people not experience these events regularly? Advanced logic circuits to measure and monitor the batteries. It keeps the battery from exploding (literally), and prevents it from internal damage on discharge.

So then the obvious question does the Tesla battery pack and charging system have advanced logic, for sure. In fact there are many articles about how advanced it is.

As for this road test one their reports they said the car had “reduced power”. That’s not how it would operate in a situation where there wasn’t enough battery power. Obviously Tesla would be upset if the test data was false. Tesla has had it’s engineers poor over the car and the logged data and could find no evidence that such an issue ever occurred. A weak battery would be prevented from discharging too low, and everything else should be normal operation of the car full battery or weak battery.

raggeredtrouseredmisanthropist (profile) says:

Re: I dream of owning one

Er… what do your comments mean? If you actually read what people are saying, then you will see that the 55 miles stated is under extreme conditions. So, if the actual range is closer to 200 miles (and it is, I know someone with a Roadster) then I would have to ask where your Walmart is… oh and it’s “something NEEDS to be done, not “need”.

Try reading things properly, just a thought.

Pete Austin says:

IIRC this is not actually true

Here’s Tesla’s response to claims that leaving their cars for a while, while not plugged in to a powerful enough electricity supply, “bricks” the battery which needs replacing – and this is not covered by Tesla’s guarantee.

They could have silenced their critics, once and for all, by saying that this has never happened. And if it did happen, that Tesla would pay for the repair. But as you can see they didn’t – chosing instead to rubbish the report and say that bricking wouldn’t happen in specific scenarios.
http://www.teslamotors.com/blog/plug-it

Tritter says:

Well

I like techdirt articles but I can’t help but notice how the authors here does not have the balls to just make a joke or remark about people without telling something in the lines of “don’t get me wrong. Its just a joke ” etc

Seriously, its just annoying. Its like a college professor telling their students an unintentionally hilarious joke and telling them something in the end that negates that joke.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

Re:

I’m a huge fan of Tesla, and I agree that the issue here is about the range of the car because it is a pure electric car. I’m not sure going legal against Top Gear was the smartest plan, but that was their choice. I completely agree that courts will not be in a hurry to help out anyone in the electric car business.

Basically electric cars are to the oil / automotive industry, the same as the internet is to the content / communications industry.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re:

These guys are not the sharpest tools in the shed, and they tend to be very hard on their toys. I wouldn’t be surprised if they forgot to charge the battery (or got bored waiting for it to charge all the way) and drove off with a partial charge, then kept the accelerator floored until it ran down.

On the other hand, a top rating from these guys means that whatever it was, it’s rugged as hell.

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re:

Wait, are you suggesting that the case would have merit, except for the fact that it was about electric cars?

You do understand, that to prove defamation, you have to prove harm and distinguish that harm from other market effects (I see no evidence of that except hurt feelings), prove that the specific facts were blatantly false, and that the party that spoke them knew they were false and would cause harm?

None of those things appear to be valid here. So why again is it valid (or even relevant) to claim bias here?

ASTROBOI says:

Musk is a character.

Musk also gave us Paypal, perhaps the most hated payment processor in the world. It sounded like a good idea when he started the company and I always thought it was those who came after Musk that wrecked it. But it seems like everything this guy touches involves being nasty and arrogant. PP is well known for such policies as “there is no appeal” and seizing their customers’ money without warning. Now you can’t make fun of his wonderful 100K car either. I’m beginning to see Musk as a rather toxic guy. Anybody want to ride on his new rocketship?

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re:

That is exactly the problem. You apparently never have the problem I have with sportscar owners. I always seem to get behind them at the lights. They are sitting there in a sports car with half a million the light turns green and we are off! I look over then and see granny in a Crown Victoria blow past as the sports car goes 0-60 in ten minutes.

For some reason seems a popular thing to spend fortune on a super fast car so you can drive the damn thing at 25mph in a 55mph zone. So yeah, I bet it would get great range the way most of these morons baby their sportscars and never actually drive them.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re:

They go out and drive sports cars like sports cars. Yes it is rough on them but what is the point of having a freeking sports car if all you are going to do is baby the thing. They went out and drove it hard on their track and found that the battery died very quick if you actually drive it hard. They then picked on how long it takes to charge.

They basically treated it just like they would any other sports car they test. They pushed it hard as they could and told the results. In this case they came to conclusion that while a cool car it just is not ready to hang with gas car just yet. That is not really a bad thing.

Elon Musk just needs to grow up and accept some critisem. I mean Top gear will pick on pretty much any car they test. This is because no car is perfect. What Tesla should take from this is that they still have some work to do. Suck it up and get to work. It is not like top gear saying a few bad things will hurt you. Top gear says bad things about Ferrari and Lamborghini so yeah, what did they expect them to say about a Tesla?

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re:

For some reason seems a popular thing to spend fortune on a super fast car so you can drive the damn thing at 25mph in a 55mph zone. So yeah, I bet it would get great range the way most of these morons baby their sportscars and never actually drive them.

You have to see it through their eyes. They just spent a ton of money on proving their man-hood/women-hood and they can’t afford the speeding ticket. Cops like sports cars too. They drive me crazy, but then I remember that I don’t need to buy a vehicle to prove anything, and I go on my way.

What drives me more crazy is the 70 year old driving the crown vic who drives 25mph while running every stop-sign and stop-light in sight. “This car has only one speed…25mph, and no breaks.” Argh!

Fact checker says:

Re:

The Tesla Roadster has computer logs that record charging history etc. Tesla had staff on sight at the Top Gear taping. The Roadster Top Gear tested did Not run out of charge in 55 miles. This Fact has been admitted by Top Gear. It seems that most of the commentors here are misinformed about this and I can’t blame them because the Top Gear episode was misleading at best. Tesla’s reputation was harmed by this as evidenced by almost every potential European investor (Tesla was raising private equity at the time) asking Tesla about the 55 mile range issue. How much this cost Tesla is hard to say but I think any reasonable person would conclude it cost them something. If you take a look at the comments here, many people believe the Roadster ran out of charge after 55 miles and this has negatively effected their opinion of the car and the company. The Roadster did not run out of charge and did not need to be pushed off the track. Top Gear just did that “to show what would happen if it ran out of charge”. Very misleading and Top Gear does effect people’s perceptions whether whatever you consider the show to be and in my view should be held accountable. Judges get things wrong all the time and in this case he got it wrong. For the record I own a Roadster and it is the most amazing car I have ever driven. Truly mind-blowing and pollution free as I power it from solar panels. Tesla is promoting a future where pollution free self reliant transportation is possible. Thanks for reading my thoughts:)

Anonymous Coward says:

Wrong, at first hearing this I thought, “oh, that sucks. 55 miles, WTF is that about!” By suing that bring the issue to light and people discover that it was meant in a mocking manner and the 55 miles was an exageration. I think the lawsuit drawing attention to it actually makes people look into the matter more and discover the truth, rather than accept the 55 mile “joke” as fact. I agree that the “Streisand Effect” is real, but in this case I think the lawsuit actually serves Tesla. The “Streisand Effect” occurs when some negative news is actually true, in this case the claim is false and by drawing attention to it people learn the facts. Not all lawsuits are bad, get over your hatred for lawyers and the entertainment industry – it is turning this site from an information hub into a stump for your personal vendettas.

Sinan Unur (profile) says:

You know, the video is available

at http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/electric-shocker

with the following:

LEGAL NOTICE: This programme is now the subject of legal proceedings for defamation and malicious falsehood brought by Tesla Motors Ltd and Tesla Motors Inc against the BBC.

Jeremy said “we’ve worked out that on our track it would run out after 55 miles.”

It is amazing that withing the span of about 120 years, we’ve come from being confined to within a few miles of where you were born or completely abandoning your family and friends to people intent on preventing you from staying in close touch with family if you choose to immigrate. Why do these people hate my grandmother?

Bor says:

I don't see how it's not defamatory

They lied about the range of the thing, which is extremely damaging to the company given that range is a sore spot for electric cars.

The number of people on this thread taking the 55 mile as a fact reaffirms the severity of it. (actual range is well over 200 miles)

It’s a hell of a lot more serious and harmful than some nonsense claim about a celebrities personal life. We’re talking real economic damages, not hurt feelings.

a european top gear fan (user link) says:

Re:

I’ve been a Top Gear fan (the original British show, not the US version) for years, and I must say anyone who seriously believes that the Top Gear car reviews are NOT FAKED should seriously rethink their perception of TV… The Top Gear Presenters (particularly Clarkson and Hammond) are well known to A) mock about EVERY car they test, no matter how good it is, and B) to repeatedly make fun of how their show is called a “factual” TV show. So I think no investor in their right mind should really be alarmed by a Top Gear review where the presenters are making fun of one or another issue in a completely exaggerating manner. BTW: There have also been occasions where carmakers tried to “save themselves” from bad reviews by not giving TG their cars… Happened in the second US-special, where Hammond bought himself the car in question with his own money, and in the Albania Special, where Clarkson “tested” an old communist car and pretended it was a Bentley Mulsanne… well, you see, the carmakers’ plan did not quite work out – and this also shows how “serious” and “factual” the show is…

T-Man says:

What makes me saddest about all of this, is Nikola Tesla’s name being dragged through the mud. Tesla uses his name for their company, and then does stupid things like this and making a bad name for themselves, and Nikola Tesla. Tesla was great, and I’m saddened that people will instead think of this crappy company instead of him when they hear the name Tesla.

Also, if the cars died after 55 mile, then they died. It isn’t libel, it’s true.

iBelieve says:

Re:

We’re not complete morons. We know the difference between the discoveries and inventions of Nikola Tesla and this Tesla company. Why would you be sympathetic towards people who don’t? Having said that, how do you know that Nikola Tesla wouldn’t love to own a Tesla? I can imagine he would invent a beam of mildly hot blue electricity pulsating around his model as in the ultimate security car alarm! >:-D

Kaiser says:

Top Gear come on!

Don’t feel bad Tesla. I own a Lexus SC430, a $70,000 USD convertable that Top Gear called the worst car ever made. They compared my car to a cheap Hyndai and of course the liked the cheap car much better. The show is a goof, funny, stupid, and not to be taken as a source for buying a car. When the most reliable car made in its day, with the first working hard top convertable, 300hp, is the worst, I would love to drive the best. Ignore the show.

Tyler Simpson says:

Re:

It has to be left at 0% charge for weeks (Nissan says for the Leaf you shouldn’t leave it at 0% for more than 14 days to be safe, Tesla says around a month) for it to begin discharging. Tesla even sends representatives over to the car prior to the Lithium Ion cells dying to charge it up, its got emergency systems in place. The only case in which a car could be bricked is if you were involved in a murder, ended up in a coma, and the car ended up as police evidence so Tesla wouldn’t be able to get to it. Even in that case, the 8 year warranty covers the cost of bricking. The battery pack is $8-$12k depending on the amount of energy it stores.

Battery Powered Bunny (profile) says:

Tyler Simpson - just ... NO !!!

Tyler Simpson, Apr 15th, 2013 @ 3:31pm

Re:
The 55 miles part was written into the script. The car still had 100 miles of range left on it. That’s libel.

Are you for real ? It is not libel – I take it your are American or from some other ?sue the world the first chance you get? place??

Top Gear did not make the 55 mile range figure up .. it was calculated based on the consumption at the time (while on track) being driven like a sports car !! (as it is one !!) Apparently according to the manufacturer I should get 40 MPG from my car however I average about 24 MPG .. Why ?? .. Coz I don?t drive like a 90 yr old !!

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