Tesla Motors has failed for the second time in its attempt to bring libel and malicious falsehood actions against Top Gear for its 2008 review of the all-electric sportscar, the Roadster. In the libel claim, Tesla had argued that the comments made by Top Gear about the range of the Roadster being only 55 miles on the Top Gear track were defamatory because Tesla was claimed to have said it had a range of about 200 miles. In October, Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that the libel claim should be struck out and the malicious falsehood claim would have to be amended if it were to be allowed to proceed.
In its second attempt to amend its libel claim, Tesla said that the programme meant that “there were reasonable grounds to suspect that each of the Claimants had intentionally and significantly misrepresented the range of the Roadster by claiming that it had a range of about 200 miles in that its true range on the Top Gear track was only 55 miles”.
In a judgment handed down today Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that Tesla’s amendment was “not capable of being defamatory at all, or, if it is, it is not capable of being a sufficiently serious defamatory meaning to constitute a real and substantial tort”. He also said that “as any reasonable motorist knows, a manufacturer’s statement about the range of a motor vehicle is always qualified by a statement as to the driving conditions under which that range may be expected. For example, one range may be given for urban driving, and another for other conditions. But such statements are rarely if ever given to the public by reference to racing on a test track”. The application to amend was therefore dismissed.
In its claim for malicious falsehood, Tesla had alleged that the Top Gear review contained deliberately false statements about the performance of the car. Mr Justice Tugendhat said that Tesla’s second attempt to formulate their malicious falsehood case on damage was so “vague” and so “gravely deficient” that “it is impossible to say that it has a real prospect of success or is in respect of a real and substantial tort.” Accordingly, that too was thrown out.
The BBC said: “We are pleased Mr Justice Tugendhat has ruled in favour of the BBC on both the issues before the court, first in striking out Tesla’s libel claim against the BBC; and secondly in describing Tesla’s malicious falsehood claim as so “gravely deficient” it too could not be allowed to proceed”