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Carmaker Tesla Sues BBC’s ‘Top Gear’ Over Electric Auto Test

Tesla Surges as Morgan Stanley Says Electric Cars Will Gain
A Tesla Model S electric car sits on display in the Tesla Motors Inc. auto plant. Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg

U.S. electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc. sued the British Broadcasting Corp.’s “Top Gear” show alleging libel and malicious falsehood.

Tesla claims the show, one of the broadcaster’s most successful programs, faked a scene that appeared to show Tesla’s Roadster car running out of energy, according to papers filed at the High Court in London yesterday.

Tesla, which has lost money every year since it was founded in 2003, is seeking to become the leader in battery-powered cars, aided by supply agreements with Toyota Motor Corp. and Daimler AG. The Palo Alto, California-based company said last month its fourth-quarter net loss widened to $51.4 million from $23.2 million a year earlier as it increased investment in the Model S, an electric sedan due in 2012.

In the Top Gear report, first broadcast in December 2008, presenter Jeremy Clarkson said that, even though the car is “biblically quick,” and “the first electric car you might actually want to buy,” its range is limited.

“Although Tesla say it will do 200 miles, we worked out that on our track it would run out after just 55 miles and if it does run out it’s not a quick job to charge it up again,” Clarkson said, according to a transcript of the show included in the filing.

The report showed the car being pushed into a hangar, according to the suit. Tesla said the Roadster that was pushed into the hangar hadn’t run out of power and didn’t need to be pushed. Top Gear’s allegation that the car’s range is 55 miles is defamatory because it suggests Tesla “grossly misled potential purchasers of the Roadster,” the filing said.

International Audience

Top Gear has a U.K. audience of around 6 million viewers and an international audience of 350 million, the broadcaster says. It is viewed in more than 100 countries and has been the most-viewed show on BBC2 for a decade.

This is the second time in less than a year the program has become involved in a High Court lawsuit. In August, the BBC sued News Corp.’s HarperCollins to block it from disclosing the real name of the “Stig,” the race driver who tested cars on the show with the visor of his helmet down to hide his identity.

“We can confirm that we have received notification that Tesla have issued proceedings against the BBC,” the broadcaster said in an e-mailed statement. “The BBC stands by the program and will be vigorously defending this claim.”

Nigel Tait, a partner at London law firm Carter-Ruck, said in a message that he made the claim on behalf of Tesla.

The case is: HQ11D01162, Tesla Motors Limited & ors vs. British Broadcasting Corp.

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