Judge throws out Tesla’s ‘Top Gear’ lawsuit

Tesla Motors’ libel suit against the British television show “Top Gear” was thrown out for the second time yesterday. Tesla was suing “Top Gear” over a December 2008 review of the company’s Roadster, which depicted a car with a dead battery being pushed into a hangar.

British Justice Tugendhat said that, “rectification of inaccuracies is not a function of the courts unless that can be achieved in the course of proceedings properly brought to enforce a recognized course of action.” He also said that Tesla seemed determined to get a ruling declaring that “Top Gear” had lied.

Tesla’s original suit claimed that “Top Gear” misrepresented the car’s range. The episode shows a Roadster being pushed, but Tesla claims its batteries were not depleted. Host Jeremy Clarkson said that “on our track, it will run out after just 55 miles.” The Roadster’s listed range is 200 miles.

“Top Gear” also said that one of their two test car’s brakes had failed partway through shooting. The problem turned out to be a blown fuse that effected the brake’s power assist.

“Top Gear” admitted that the car still had some charge; producer Andy Wilman said the crew was filming a segment on what would happen if the Tesla ran out of charge. Indeed, about half of the Tesla video talks about the difficulty of charging an electric car, and includes a scene where the Roadster is plugged into a wind turbine on a windless day.

Wilman also stood by the 55 mile range, saying that driving a car on a track is different than driving it on a road. It is true that “Top Gear” has made similar claims of diminished economy in the past: in another episode, Clarkson said a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII only got four mpg when driven hard. Wilman claimed that brakes with no power assist still qualify as “broken.”

In October 2011, Tugendhat threw out the suit, and told Tesla that they would have to amend their claim. Tesla responded by saying that, “there were reasonable grounds to suspect that each of the Claimants [“Top Gear”] had intentionally and significantly misrepresented the range of the Roadster by claiming that it had a range of about 200 miles in that its true range on the “Top Gear” track was only 55 miles.”

Yesterday, the judge dismissed that claim as well, saying that drivers understand that cars perform differently in different conditions, such as driving on a track instead of a normal road. Since that was the main point of Tesla’s suit, the electric carmaker had nothing else to argue.

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