Bit of background for those of you with rich enough lives to know nothing of this sillyness.
In 2008 the BBC’s flagship car show, Top Gear, did a feature on the Tesla Roadster.
When the big Mr C first drove it, he was very impressed, "I cannot believe this – that's biblically quick.” he shouted as the car rocketed him forward.
Then the batteries ran out after 55 miles and the Top Gear crew had to push the car back to a shed where they could plug it in.
Terrible, what a loser car.
Except the batteries hadn’t run out, not anywhere near. The cars were fine, there was absolutely nothing wrong with them.
I’m sure some of you are familiar with this story, goodness me I’ve droned on about it enough. I ranted about it on YouTube at the time.
Now, what’s all the fuss about?
Big Mr C and his pals have slagged off all sorts of cars, that’s their job. That’s why we watch them. There are many car manufacturers and Nations who’ve had their noses put out of joint big time by the middle aged men in jeans. We love it, we lap it up, it’s a laugh. And anyway, everyone knows it’s a light entertainment show, nobody takes it seriously.
Except of course they do.
For about 40% of the white, disgruntled, put upon male population, their word is law.
For 80% of young men who aren’t old enough to drive yet, their word is written in stone.
I had a wonderful example of this when I was lucky enough to have a Tesla Roadster Sport re-charging in my garage. A neighbor dropped in with his 11 year old son, they looked at the car and the boy said ‘Oh yeah, I saw that on Top Gear, it only does 55 miles then you have to plug it in for 5 days.’
His dad let me take him out for a quick drive, that boy has barely been able to stop talking about it ever since.
The following day I drove that car 189 miles on one charge without any trouble what so ever, it was nowhere near empty when I gave it back, and I drove it like an idiot.
A friend of mine, Richard Titus, one of the producers of the film, ‘Who Killed The Electric Car’ now owns the self same Tesla which ‘ran out of battery’ on Top Gear. He drives it every day, he’s driven many 10’s of thousands of miles in it, it’s never broken down, it was stolen and he got it back, it’s a legendary, high end, expensive sports car that goes faster 0-60 than virtually any other car that’s allowed on the road.
But a huge amount of people, if they’ve heard of the Tesla, will say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the car that can only go 55 miles then you have to push it.’
Anyway, here’s the thing.
There have been a few occasions over the years where good friends have been slandered and libeled in the gutter press and have pondered taking the matter further, getting the courts involved, driven by a strong desire to clear their name.
If they’ve asked for my advice I’ve always counseled against it, all that seems to happen in cases like that is the paper coughs up a few quid and the story, already long forgotten is given fresh publicity.
This was my fear for Tesla, the episode of Top Gear which featured the rather crude public destruction of Tesla’s still very new and fragile reputation was broadcast nearly 3 years ago.
Why drag it back into the spotlight?
Top Gear, and more importantly the BBC hold a very important place in British people’s hearts.
Who wants to support a bunch of West Coast eco-nerds who’ve gone all moody because Big Mr C was roody poody about their their ickle wickle electric car.
Who can ever remember the show?
Well, there’s the rub. After repeated attempts over the last three years, Tesla have tried to get the BBC to withdraw that section of the show from their endless repeats, the literally millions of DVD’s they sell and their enormous overseas coverage.
Top Gear is an international brand with a massive impact, and they did, after all, totally fictionalise the silly stunt with the batteries.
It’s still a very difficult argument and I’m still a bit “fence sitty” about it.
I believe Tesla were badly wronged by the show, (when have you ever seen the crew push a petrol car off the track because it ran out of gas? i.e there was a clear editorial agenda) I admire the fact that the company are pugnacious enough to call them out, but I worry the negative PR will not help.
I merely mentioned the story on Twitter today and I was soon receiving ‘You and your eco-fascist friends upset then? Sure, sue the BBC and steal from our license fee #massiveEVfail” etc.
Couple of things while I’ve got the chance. Top Gear, the BBC series, is entirely funded by the BBC from our TV license. Top Gear, the private company which runs the Top Gear Live! shows and Top Gear magazine, is proudly and very publicly supported by Shell. Nothing wrong with that, it’s not a criticism, it’s on observation.
They are paid by a massive oil company and there is no way in hell I am going to suggest that has any bearing what so ever on their attitude. And before you say what about Hydrogen, (the Tesla episode of TG also features the Honda Clarity HFC car) one of the biggest supporters and keenest proponents of developing hydrogen fuel cell cars? Shell.
You can read Tesla's side of the story here.