US-based electric car maker Tesla Motors is suing the BBC for staging a Top Gear TV programme in which it showed the company's Tesla Roadster car, the world's fastest electric car in production, running out of electricity and grinding to a halt on the show's test circuit. The legal proceedings, which allege libel and malicious falsehood, follow on from the ongoing dispute between Tesla, the BBC and Top Gear over the footage, which first aired in December 2008. Tesla is concerned that the footage is still being shown on repeats of the show, which is broadcast in more than 100 countries, on the internet and on Top Gear DVD. The episode in dispute showed Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson testing the electric Tesla Roadster in a race against the petrol-powered Lotus Elise. The footage showed the Tesla Roadster overpowering the Lotus considerably. Clarkson praised the car with exuberant comments such as "I cannot believe this – that's biblically quick. This car is electric, literally" and "wave goodbye to dial-up and say hello to the world of broadband motoring". However later footage showed the car grinding to a halt as it ran out of electricity and then having to be pushed into a hanger to re-charge. Clarkson was then shown using a second Tesla Roadster whilst the first car was re-charging. Alas this car had a fault as well – the motor was said to have overheated, immobilising it. In a voice-over, Clarkson said that they had tried to use the original car once again after the re-charge, but they were unable to as the car's brakes had broken. Overall both Tesla cars were shown to have considerable faults rendering them unavailable for further testing. Tesla argues that the footage contained "lies and misinformation" about the cars' reliability, performance and behaviour. Firstly, that the original car ran out of power, when Tesla claim that its charge never fell below 20%. Secondly, that its range was 55 miles on the Top Gear test circuit, when Tesla believe the car's true range is 211 miles. Tesla also believes that Top Gear misrepresented that the second car's motor overheated and was completely immobilised, that the first car's brakes had broken, and that neither car was available for test driving due to these faults. The BBC, in response, has denied "rigging" the race and has said that it will be "vigorously defending" the claim. A question which should be asked is why Tesla waited over two years before issuing proceedings. If the car maker was truly incensed by the "malicious falsehoods" in the footage, why wait so long? According to its statement, Tesla resorted to legal action as attempts to contact the BBC were ignored. If true, one wonders whether the BBC could have avoided this lawsuit and the potential negative PR by opening some channels of communication and taking steps to prevent the ongoing broadcast of this episode, which appears to be Tesla's chief concern. While Top Gear is increasingly known for the buffoonery of its presenters and their adventures, as well as their aversion to any "reasonable" cars, if libel is successfully shown, then viewers will need to take the show with an extra large pinch of salt and it will remain to be seen whether car makers will be so keen to let the presenters loose with their cars. – Richard Dickinson
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