An English court has once again ruled against Tesla Motors, dismissing the company’s latest libel charge against the BBC, producer of the automotive TV show Top Gear. Will this be the final chapter in the ongoing saga of the plucky startup against the arrogant defender of the status quo? Oh, we hope not – both sides are having too much fun (and garnering too much valuable publicity) to let things rest now.
Our story so far:
In 2008, Top Gear took a Tesla Roadster for a ride around their testing track, which ended with humiliating footage of the car being pushed back to the garage, and host Jeremy Clarkson declaring that “in the real world, it doesn’t seem to work.” Tesla claimed that the failure was staged, and sued for libel in March of 2011.
In retrospect, it was probably foolish to expect that any EV would get a sympathetic reception on Top Gear. As the UK automotive media belabored the story, more than one commentator pointed out Clarkson’s well-known hatred of hybrids and EVs, and his adherence to the venerable principle of elevating story above facts. To an audience of motorheads, a story about an electric car that’s a pathetic failure is infinitely more interesting than one about an EV that performs just like a gas vehicle.
In December 2011, Top Gear added an interesting twist when it named the Fisker Karma ‘Luxury Car of the Year.’ Tesla and Fisker have a complex relationship, having sued each other a couple of times, so an uncharitable mind might conclude that the award was calculated to rile Musk and company (or does it mean that the Gear-heads aren’t prejudiced against plug-in cars after all?).
After the dismissal of the original case, Tesla had another go and returned to court with an amended suit. On Thursday, the same judge dismissed this claim as well, saying that Top Gear’s coverage was “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.” He added that “as any reasonable motorist knows, a manufacturer’s statement about the range of a motor vehicle is always qualified by a statement as to the driving conditions under which that range may be expected… but such statements are rarely if ever given to the public by reference to racing on a test track.”