Tesla’s libel appeal against Top Gear struck down

2008 review of electric Roadster ruled "not capable of being defamatory"

By Will Dron on February 24, 2012 3:33 PM

Pure electric car maker Tesla’s libel appeal against BBC Top Gear for its 2008 review of the Tesla Roadster has ended after the judge dismissed the episode as "not capable of being defamatory".

Tesla brought the action against Top Gear in March last year on the grounds of libel and malicious falsehood, after the hugely popular and irreverent motoring programme showed the car running out of power after 55 miles of track driving – a long way short of the EPA combined range of 245 miles. Tesla cried foul, saying the programme suggested the maker had misrepresented the true range of the car.

The libel action was originally dismissed in October by Mr Justice Tugendhat, and yesterday the same judge also threw out the appeal.

"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,” said Tugendhat.

"For example, one range may be given for urban driving, and another for other conditions. But such statements are rarely, if ever, given to the public by reference to racing on a test track."

In other words, the public understands that the way in which a car is driven affects its driving range.

For that reason, Tugendhat said the Top Gear episode 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".

Tugendhat also said Tesla's malicious falsehood claim (lies based on malice, in this case referring to ‘faked scenes’ and the claim that electric cars are “not ready for the real world”) was so “gravely deficient” that it could not be allowed to proceed.

For another chance to watch the episode in question, find it below: