As he heaved the £92,000 electric sports car off the Top Gear track, little did Jeremy Clarkson know the incident would be the topic of legal argument for years to come.But that December 2008 episode of the BBC2 show has been examined repeatedly by some of Britain’s most senior media judges in a three-year libel battle brought by the US car maker, Tesla.
The court of appeal signalled the end of the road for Tesla’s legal claim on Tuesday, rejecting the company’s assertion that its reputation was damaged by Clarkson’s typically provocative review of the Tesla Roadster car.
Appeal court judge Lord Justice Moore-Bick said he had watched the whole of the one-hour Top Gear episode “a number of times”. In his view, the judge explained, the programme did not libel Tesla.
Tesla complained about a passage of Clarkson’s commentary in which he said: “Although Tesla say it will do 200 miles, we worked out that on our track it would run out after just 55 miles and if it does run out, it is not a quick job to charge it up again.” Clarkson and others are then shown pushing the Roadster into the Top Gear hangar and recharging it.
Moore-Bick questioned whether Top Gear’s influence among petrolheads was as great as Tesla claimed.
The electric car maker claimed that the scene cost it the sale of 200 Roadsters, caused costs of $171,000, damaged investor confidence, and prompted adverse comments on YouTube.
Comparing sales of its Roadster to a rival top-of-the-range model, Tesla said it had sold just 7% of what the Lotus Elise had sold in the UK.
The California-based company said pre-sale orders for its new Model S sedan have been far lower than expected in the UK because of Clarkson’s bad review.
But the court of appeal was unconvinced. “In my view the case pleaded in support of the claim for special damages is, to say the least, very thin on its own terms,” said Moore-Bick, who sat alongside Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Lord Justice Rimer.
He added: “Moreover, on the basis of the material currently before the court I do not think that there is any real prospect of Tesla’s being able to demonstrate at trial that it has suffered any quantifiable loss by reason of any of the actionable statements.”
There was no immediate comment from Clarkson following the judgment – the Top Gear host is understood to be on his way to Australia to film a live edition of the show.
However, Andy Wilman, the executive producer of Top Gear, said: “I am pleased that the appeal court has upheld the previous ruling and the case has been struck out. I’d also like to apologise to the judges for making them have to watch so much Top Gear.”
Last month Tesla got into a tit-for-tat online spat with New York Times writer John Broder over an unflattering review he wrote about its Model S.
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This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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