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Tesla V Top Gear

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.


Reader Comments (35)

So your argument, either overtly or by innuendo (or why mention it?), is that Top Gear is pro oil and had Tesla on the show just to make them look bad? How would you ever prove that - except by insinuation of course?

One wonders why Tesla waited three years to try and put right what is, from your side of the story, an outrageous lie.

Something stinks here - on both sides.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdave jones

I think in this case it's good publicity. Get's their name in the papers some more and people will actaully read the details. 0-60 how fast? 200 miles a charge?

Also just wanted to say if you're going to hyperlink to something:

hyperlink to it

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDK

By the way, the "Tesla side of the story" website reads suspiciously like an advert for Tesla. Come on, pull the other one.

PS The film TG made does not state that all Teslas can only do 55 miles before recharge. It states that the one they had did after happily quoting the Tesla supplied figure. Spot the difference.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdave jones

Regarding the tweet you got, I also don't really want my Licence Fee spent on 'factual' programme content that's a complete pack of lies. It's galling enought that any of it gets spent on Top Gear at all these days. Anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together knows that TG is all entertainment and zero journalism and has been for ages. It's a cartoon show, which is a real shame actually and a loss to motoring journalism shows. The stunts they get up to are frankly embarrassing in my opinion.

TG shouldn't ever be afraid of putting peoples' noses out of joint, and why not have a laugh along the way, but at the same time it should have *some* responsibility surely? It's a case of all power and no responsibility at the moment. I'd be happy for a bit of the Licence Fee being spent slapping its legs. I'm with Tesla on this one - no-one likes having their pants pulled down in public.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAsh Brown

Hmm, an interesting conundrum for the EV enthusiast.

I'm a Top Gear fan and I enjoy their brand of 'blokes arsing about' humour - although it can, of course be somewhat contrived at times, it still elicits plenty of laughs. I also think that Big Mr C is something of a commercial genius for the way he has not only transformed the TG brand - and his own - from stuffy and middle-aged, to silly and fun. Who cares if Clarkson is a middle-aged man in tight jeans making sweeping, generalised statements as long as they're funny (and they often are).

The problem, of course, is not so much with what he says - which you have to suspect is laced with irony and with a massive helping of tongue-in-cheek - but with the people who take what he says as gospel. People start Facebook campaigns calling for 'Clarkson for Prime Minister', as if what he says would make any kind of difference, like its a good idea. Its not. Its a stupid idea. Even Clarkson would (probably) have the humility to admit that (off-camera, anyway).

Which, of course, brings us 3 years down the line from that fateful film...

Having studied electric vehicle technology as part of my degree - and having written a report about EV charging options for a local council - I'm extremely keen on the idea and extol its virtues whenever possible.

So far, though, very few people have quoted Top Gear to me when complaining that its not viable because of a lack of mileage - mainly because its not just the Beeb and Top Gear who continue to spout these inaccurate viewpoints. There was a section on local telly news early last year which seemed to conclude the same thing, and that was on ITV.

It seems to be a well-founded myth now, fuelled by a mixture of deliberate misinformation, misunderstandings, and pure ignorance.

Personally, I feel this publicity will only fuel those misunderstandings.

EV needs three things, in my opinion, to help the technology really take off and become a viable alternative - improving battery life; investment in public charging points; and educating the general public on its advantages.

Perhaps Tesla would be better placed to spend the money they're setting aside for any legal action on any of the above three, and therefore help to make a real difference...


March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJhaden81

As I understand it the BBC are going to fight this not on the basis that what TG said is true (how could they?) but on the basis that TG is merely entertainment. Clarkson has regularly said that nothing that appears on TG is 'real', it is all staged and filmed as an entertainment show. He has also said that the opinions he expresses are not genuine. TG does not attempt to adhere to any kind of objective journalistic standards, nor have they ever claimed to. The BBC have already said that the Tesla being pushed to the garage was staged to 'represent what would happen, if a car ran out of power'. It was a filmed sequence as real as the black suited Stig being shot off a Aircraft carrier or Clarkson being shot by a variety of Army vehicles. Obviously none of those things actually happened. One of the Mitchell Brothers was not really driven round Belfast in the boot of a car.

The BBC will defend themselves by saying 'it's not real, we never claimed it was.' On that basis they will probably win (if it ever goes that far).

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSally


Thanks for the hyperlink reminder. My fail yet again, sorted now

March 30, 2011 | Registered CommenterRobert Llewellyn


I think you make good and valid points. I am meeting Tesla tomorrow and I'll make sure they see this blog and particularly the comments. Thank you

March 30, 2011 | Registered CommenterRobert Llewellyn

I think that Tesla Motors complaint is very real and is based in part on the facts of the case. It seems from a lay point of view that Top Gear decided to run an article on Electric Cars and rather than test and present what they found, which might have been dull telly, they wrote a script for a farce then cast Tesla in the lead role. Tesla even questioned the script but were ignored it seems.

The claim is here; it's dull reading but answers all the questions raised above: http://www.teslamotors.com/sites/default/files/tesla_-_claim_form_claimants_copy_29_03_11.pdf

I loved Top Gear before it jumped the Shark around session 12, before it became so scripted and so clearly a bunch or guys arsing about trying to cock it up. Was Some Mothers Do 'Av 'Em season two any good? Not really right, there's only so far that you can take that formula. It's a shame that they didn't go out on a high as Producer Andy Wilman once said. It would have left us wanting for more.

Perhaps it's time to Stop Gear.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Thwaite

Well, what can you do?

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlexander Sigsworth

If every car company that had received unfair criticism of one of their cars through flawed, misleading or downright untrue testing methods on Top Gear sued then there wouldn't be a car company that hadn't done so.

There must be a reason for this. I figure either there are no legal grounds for it, it is terrible PR, or both. However you cut it, I'm pretty sure it's a bad move.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterwolftic

For the "I'm appalled that Top Gear gets my licence money" argument, I'm pretty sure that overall it doesn't- that the licensing (overseas, to Dave, DVDs, the live show tour, Magazine and merchandise) comfortably make backs the investment that the BBC put in and then some, ploughing money back IN to the BBC to make programs that you might like. There may be things wrong with Top Gear, but "wasting Licence Fee money" is, I'm pretty sure, not one of them.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAL__S

I disagree Sally. Hard to use that defense after collecting the Best Factual Programme award at the NTAs.

Saying a car is ugly is one thing, 'pretending' a car is unreliable is another thing altogether.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Broadway

The story was on the top page of our local paper, with the shinny, fantastic photo of the Tesla: http://www.dagbladet.no/2011/03/30/kultur/tv/top_gear/jeremy_clarkson/tesla/16005403/

They mentioned that the whole battery issue was staged by the bad Mr. C.

1-0 to Tesla

And this publicity is good for Tesla.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermelionsden

Despite being an immense petrol head, climate change realist (not denier!) and disagree with Robert about everything relating to cars on principle I have to agree thatas Top Gear is thought by too many as a funny entertaining prog that at least gives us facts and when it is so blatantly against the Tesla then I think its time to give up before it slides down too far from that pinnacle where it once was
I doubt whether this will happen - the prog.is part owned by Clarkson and Wilman,its a huge money maker for all concerned so lets keep flogging a dead horse - eh?
Their Top Gear shows (not TV progs) play around the world earning them more than any Pop star would dream of making from their concerts- and if it means a few companies forced to close or plants shut due to poor demand who cares eh? :-(

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTeifion

I don't think Top gear is entirely funded by the bbc licence fee anymore as it is watched around the world by hundreds of millions of people. The networks showing top gear around the world all pay the bbc to show it. Also there is so much merchandise and dvds as well as the top gear show being franchised to America and Australia amongst others I suspect top gear actually makes money for the bbc rather than costing it money.

My main objection about top gear is its inclusion in the factual section on the iplayer.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim winstanley

Yes top gear slag off petrol cars as well. However, they when they have slagged off the other cars they are doing so as an opinion, e.g. "the car handles like an elephant". As already said, the problem with the Tesla car was not that they gave a bad opinion of the car but they misrepresented the facts.
From various comments throughout the series, it is evident the top gear presenters see electric cars as an attack on their way of life. They associate electric cars with the green revolution, hippies and people telling them what they can and can't do.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDr James

I agree with DK, viz all publicity is good publicity when it's about a subject that is not top of most people's gossip agenda. Get people arguing about EV's and it'll make them aware that alternatives to petrol cars are on the market and they don't all look like golf buggies. Tesla's marketing department could do a lot worse than put the Top Gear clip on their publicity with a strap line something like "With performance like this from an electric car you'll need to make up excuses to stick with petrol as well."

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSeb

I think Tesla are right to bring it all up again. It will all end with a few more knowing about Tesla, their Roadster and the new Model S.

The Tesla Model S looks like an exceptional car, especially when it's only around £30k and when comparing that to the price of the Nissan Leaf (31k / 26k with government incentives) it looks quite cheap and it will have the range (300 miles) to compete with the rest of them.

Anyway, back to the topic... I'm all for having a laugh but when you have the kind of audience numbers that TG have they have a responsibility to give you the facts straight. They're all entitled to their opinions and say it looks crap (although IMO it doesn't) or whatever but when you are just misrepresenting the truth for a few laughs it is a step too far.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGareth Hopkins

' “Top Gear” issued a statement saying the car was “videotaped being pushed to show what would have happened if the Roadster had run out of charge,” '


'Ms. Davies, the BBC spokeswoman, said several times in an interview that “Top Gear” was “an entertainment program.” '

From here: http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/30/was-top-gears-test-of-tesla-roadster-misleading/

(create your own hyperlink. meh)


"We never said once that the car had run out of power. The car had to be pushed into the warehouse because you are not allowed to drive cars into a building." said Clarkson. And: "A spokesman for the BBC admitted that the car had not run out of power" From here:


Which is to say that TG is an admitted work of fiction. We all know that anyway, right? Who amongst us tunes in thinking "I am going to travel across Vietnam and want objective consumer advice as to whether a Cub or a Minsk is a better prospect"? It is all nonsense done in the name of 'entertainment' and the BBC admits as much. It has to be, because what is the alternative? The BBC saying that xenophobic, right wing, homophobic, lying, anti Gypsy hate speech is official BBC policy? No, the only leg that the BBC have to stand on is to say that it is just an entertainment program. They cling to that idea.

(Personally I don't think that excuses the hate and bigotry one bit, but the law may see otherwise)

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSally

The Tesla S is going to be 30 grand? I do not believe that. There has to be a downside. As for the lawsuit, good on them. I love Clarkson and May and even their monkey but you can't go claiming outright lies as fact without admitting to it once the laughter fades.

And as for hyperlinks, put them inline - no need to say go here (sans link) then put the link afterwards.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob

The quote from the Top Gear spokeswoman on this from yesterday, as found on the BBC News website, is "The BBC stands by the programme and will be vigorously defending this claim".

Many people above seem to be accepting ALL Tesla's points as fact. I hope everything they are saying is 100% correct or they will be having their pants pulled down in public again.

I would of thought it better Tesla kept out of this nonsense. If their car is so good surely a case can be made on it's own merits. They are basically admitting that a bit of Top Gear cocking about is worth more than their product and all it's advertising.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Top Gear - Last of the Summer Wine. Is there a difference?
That they retired the flagging LOTSW years ago I suppose is one.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOther Paul

"Except the batteries hadn’t run out, not anywhere near. The cars were fine, there was absolutely nothing wrong with them."....... verification?

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMoi

Firstly, I'd love a Tesla, and for 90% of my driving it'd be an ideal machine.

However, TG did make a valid point, in a slightly facetious way. If you run a car round a race track at full beans then it will run out juice faster. TG did a test of various super cars, and a Ferrari that might normally drive round town at 10mpg or so, sucked up fuel at *1*mpg. It's not unreasonable to suspect the same would happen with the Tesla - indeed I have seen Youtube videos of some American show where they tested the Tesla against a Porsche on a track, and the Tesla was running low after maybe a dozen laps or so.

When a petrol car runs out, you can just walk usually a couple miles at most, grab a can of fuel and then you're off again. Not quite so easy with an EV, and that is the point I think that TG was trying to get across - badly. Having said that though you obviously need to modify your driving habits to take that into account.

If there was a nation-wide network of EV charging points where you could pull up, plug in, and get a good 75%+ charge whilst enjoying a reasonably priced coffee and croissant, and visiting the loo then I reckon EVs would take off immediately. In small countries like here in the UK, I can see that being a possibility too. Big open countries like the USA however it may be a different matter.

Recent episodes of TG have also dealt with EVs, although none have actually been tested yet. The cars appear to actually be well received, and I suspect that TG may be in the process of beginning to embrace and accept EVs.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSlugsie

I have watched and enjoyed top gear for years but the last couple of series have been mostly a bit crap, probably down to lack of cash. The combine harvester snowplow episode was pathetic.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Whittle

Sorry, I'll take back what I said about the Tesla Model S being 30k. I have read it again and that's the deposit for the Tesla Model S Signature (300mile battery and other extras) which is to be released first. The base Tesla Model S will probably be closer to 40k which is a bit more realistic but in my opinion worth every penny.

Sorry about my misrepresentation of the facts, quite ironic really :)

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGareth Hopkins

People champion the Tesla as the EV that really gets amongst the big boys. I can refuel my Ferrari or Aston Martin in 5 minutes or less. How long before you have usefully recharged your Tesla. At least 30? More?

No thanks. Some of us can't be sitting round all day waiting for a refuel.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Prior

I'm a TG fan and would defend the show to most people on most issues. But if they are pushing cars into a garage to simulate what pushing a car into a garage would look like if it needed to be pushed into a garage is poor. Similarly with the other claims. Just say what really happened. Don't have a script and use the car to suit it.

That said, have the universally established facts emerged yet?

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPukkatronic

Yeah well I can refuel my 15 year old Clio in 4 minutes so there

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWill Bick

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