Tesla Motors' lawsuit against the hit automotive TV show "Top Gear" has more at issue than whether the show made erroneous statements about Tesla's $109,000 electric Roadster.
Tesla says it's suing not just to correct the record. It is fighting for the honor of electric-vehicle technology.
"We're very concerned that EVs are being judged not on their merits but on preconceived conclusions," says Myra Pasek, a spokeswoman in London for the Silicon Valley electric sports car maker.
Tesla filed the libel lawsuit in London late last month against the show, which is syndicated internationally by the British Broadcasting Corp.
Tesla is steamed that "Top Gear," with an estimated 350 million viewers, continues to show reruns of the program, in which a reviewer challenges the battery range Tesla claims for its Roadster. Tesla boasts 245 miles of driving on a battery charge. The 2008 "Top Gear" episode calculated that the Roadster would deliver only 55 miles before it stopped running. The BBC has issued a statement saying it stands by the program.
But there is a deeper issue at stake for the emerging electric vehicle sector, Pasek says. "This amounts to a misinformation campaign about whether electric cars work," she says.
In the show, a reviewer sums up the performance of the Roadster and its driving range by saying, "In the real world, it doesn't seem to work."
Pasek counters, "Tesla is the groundbreaker in the technology." Citing existing Tesla technology-sharing deals with Daimler AG and Toyota Motor Corp., she says, "Daimler and Toyota are looking to us. If our car doesn't work, nobody's does."
The larger problem for the industry is that range anxiety haunts the discussion of EVs.
Tesla is not alone. Some Web sites have carried reports challenging the battery range of the Nissan Leaf. Some consumers have said they were stranded when their Nissan Leaf unexpectedly ran out of power. Nissan North America has called those reports isolated.