Tesla Motors' efforts to clear allegations of reduced range on its electric cars just took another hit. A British appeals court dismissed a libel lawsuit filed by Tesla against the BBC's Top Gear show. The court rejected Tesla's appeal of a court decision last year that struck out its "libel and malicious falsehood" case against BBC. Tesla had asserted that the popular British automotive TV show had faked a scene that appeared to show a Tesla Roadster running out of power, which the Palo Alto, CA-based automaker said caused sales to drop.
Top Gear road tested two Roadsters in 2008 around a track – much more like racing conditions that typical day-to-day driving. Drivers tested the electric sports cars for acceleration, straight-line speed, cornering and handling. Top Gear claimed the car ran out of power after 55 miles – much lower than the automaker's estimated range of 200 miles. The TV show's review wouldn't have misled "a reasonable viewer" into thinking that the Roadster's range was less than the company's estimate under normal driving conditions, said Martin Moore-Bick, an appeals court judge in London, in his decision.
Tesla claimed it had lost $171,000 in lost sales as a result of the show's review of the car, and were well below the level of sales in the United States and European Union. Tesla's lawyers argued that the comments were defamatory because it had "intentionally or recklessly grossly misled potential purchasers." Judge Moore-Bick disagreed, saying the comments did not libel Tesla. Viewers would recognize that Top Gear's high-speed track testing was quite different than a normal driving style, he said.
Inaccurate media coverage can cost Tesla Motors much more than $171,000, according to CEO Elon Musk. He said that the "fake" report by New York Times writer John Broder on reduced range during his Model S road trip may have wiped out as much as $100 million in stock value for Tesla Motors. Musk asserts that the article resulted in several cancelled orders, probably costing Tesla "a few hundred" Model S purchases.