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Tesla Libel Suit Over BBC’s ‘Top Gear’ Dismissed in U.K. (1)

March 05, 2013

Tesla Libel Suit Over BBC’s ‘Top Gear’ Dismissed in U.K.

Sales of the Tesla Roadster "within the U.K. have been lower than expected and, in particular, have fallen well below the level of sales in the EU and the United States." Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

A U.K. appeals court dismissed a libel lawsuit from Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA:US), a maker of electric vehicles led by billionaire Elon Musk, against the British Broadcasting Corp. show “Top Gear.”

The court rejected Tesla’s appeal of last year’s decision to strike out its “libel and malicious falsehood” case against the BBC. The Palo Alto, California-based company said “Top Gear” faked a scene that appeared to show a Tesla Roadster running out of power, which led to lower sales.

The “Top Gear” review wouldn’t have misled “a reasonable viewer” into thinking the Tesla car’s range was less than the company’s estimate of “200 miles under normal driving conditions,” Martin Moore-Bick, an appeals court judge in London, said in his decision today.

Musk last month told Bloomberg Television that a story by New York Times reporter John M. Broder, which claimed that the car-maker’s Model S sedan fell short of its estimated range, was “fake.” Shares in the company have fallen more than 9 percent, from $39.24 to $35.58, since Feb. 8, the day the Times article first appeared.

“I am pleased that the Appeal Court has upheld the previous ruling and the case has been struck out,” Andy Wilman, executive producer of Top Gear, said in an e-mailed statement today. “I’d also like to apologize to the judges for making them have to watch so much ’Top Gear.’”

Track Test

The BBC show tested the Tesla Roadster in 2008, driving two vehicles around a track to “push the cars to the limits of their performance in terms of acceleration, straight line speed, cornering and handling,” according to the judgment.

“Top Gear” claimed the car ran out of power after 55 miles, in contrast to the company’s estimated range. Tesla claimed it had missed out on $171,000 in lost sales as a result of the show’s review of the car.

Sales of the Tesla Roadster “within the U.K. have been lower than expected and, in particular, have fallen well below the level of sales in the EU and the United States,” lawyers for Tesla said, according to the judgment.

A lawyer for Tesla at Carter-Ruck in London couldn’t be immediately reached to comment on the ruling.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Moshinsky in London at bmoshinsky@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net


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