We don‘t have to tell you what TopGear is – everyone knows this extremely popular TV show. However, did you know that it actually did some damage to Tesla at the beginning of its history? And it wasn‘t done unintentionally with some bad joke – Tesla is still not happy about one potentially dishonest review.

Tesla Roadster, which entered production in 2008, was a very interesting car. Electric sports cars were not that famous back in a day and people were still cautious about range anxiety and charging times. However, Tesla Roadster was exciting and had pretty serious people behind it. Notably, Elon Musk, who was already a famous business man at that time. Naturally, media was writing about Tesla Roadster and it found its way to TopGear.

The review in question appeared in 2008. Jeremy Clarkson started by highlighting good points, such as acceleration and modern electric drive. He said that the car does feel like it’s the future, comparing it to broadband, as opposed to dial-up. However, later he started criticising the car. At first he said it doesn’t feel as good through the corners, which is legit criticism as the car was much heavier than Lotus Elise on which is it was heavily based.

Tesla Roadster was the brand’s first automobile, created using Lotus Elise as a base. (Thomas doerfer, Wikimedia(CC BY 3.0)

Then it was said that the car ran out of battery in just 55 miles (89 kilometres), even though Tesla promised a 200 mile (322 km) range. Tesla Roadster was pushed off the track into the shed. Top Gear had two cars to test and eventually both of them were down with empty batteries and brake problems. The test was concluded by saying that Tesla Roadster may still not be ready for the road. Clarkson even pointed at a stationary wind turbine implying that the car takes time to charge, but Tesla roadster could be charged at home in just 3.5 hours.

Not only that. Tesla data logged both vehicles from the test and said that neither of them went below 20 % of energy left in the batteries. Therefore, none of Tesla’s cars had to be pushed off the track into the shed. BBC later admitted that it was just to show what would happen if the car ran out of energy. Brakes were not broken down either – we cannot know what was TopGear about.

What Musk thinks about Jeremy Clarkson?

You may think that this is basically irrelevant. TopGear is just an entertaining show with a little bit of automotive journalism. You can see that its clips have been scripted and reviews are subjective. That partially is what makes them so fun to watch. In fact, Elon Musk said that Tesla employee, who delivered cars for testing saw the script, which said that the car is going to break down – he was that even before tests started.

However, it is very much relevant when you are a small company trying to enter the market. Elon Musk said that many potential investors later asked why cars were breaking down on TopGear track. It actually could have caused significant damage to the company. In 2011 Tesla sued BBC, but the court figured out BBC is not guilty in this case. Tesla even had to cover BBC’s legal costs.

So what can we learn from this story? Well, a lot if you’re a new company in the automotive market. Also, don’t believe everything on car reviews – some things are subjective and some shows are mean for entertainment purposes only.


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