Compared to smothering hugs, ample booze and possibly a little deniable blackmail, suing a media outlet rarely is the best way to perform the skillful art of public relations. This is what Tesla is finding out right now.
Most likely after throwing words of caution by its own PR folk to the wind, Tesla decided to bring a defamation suit against the BBC’s Top Gear. According to Tesla’s own blog, Top Gear perpetrated “serious and damaging lies,” such as claiming that “the Roadster’s true range is only 55 miles per charge. “ Of course, writes Tesla’s Communication VP Ricardo Reyes in the blog, Tesla is “not doing this for money. As the world leader in EV technology, Tesla owes it to the public to stop Top Gear’s disinformation campaign and provide the truth. “
Top Gear has its own blog. In it, Top Gear’s Executive Producer Andy Wilman answers with some counter battery fire. Normally, says Wilman, when a suit is brought, both sides keep their respective mouths and blogs shut while “brainy people wearing wigs” (lawyers wear wigs in the UK, at least in court, sometimes … never mind) argue over the matter. “Tesla, however, doesn’t seem content to wait for the legal eagles to settle matters,” says Wilman. “On the contrary, it’s been very busy promoting its side of the argument through the media.”
Tesla’s PR agency PHA Media even contacted the British TV program “The One Show” and invited them to “have some fun with this.” Too bad The One Show is a show of BBC One (hence the name), and it just so happened that Top Gear “accidentally received” the email. Which allowed Top Gear to have some fun with it.
No longer bound to the “pre-legal etiquette of keeping schtum until we get our day in court,” Wilman then provides a point for point rebuttal. The core is that Top Gear “never said that the Tesla’s true range is only 55 miles, as opposed to their own claim of 211, or that it had actually ran out of charge. In the film our actual words were: ‘We calculated that on our track it would run out after 55 miles’.”
That 55 miles number did not come from Top Gear’s “heads, but from Tesla’s boffins in California. They looked at the data from that car and calculated that, driven hard on our track, it would have a range of 55 miles.” (Before lawyers prepare another defamation suit: “Boffins” is nothing bad. In British English, it stands for people engaged in technical or scientific research. At worst, “boffin” could be understood as “geek.”)
Tesla concedes that Clarkson said: “Although Tesla say it will do 200 miles we worked out that on our track it would run out after just 55 miles.”
I guess even a wig-wearing judge will give this one to Top Gear. (Note to Tesla: When quoting from videos, QUOTE VERBATIM.)
Again, if Tesla would ask me for advice (I’m sure they won’t) I’d tell them to quietly settle. Each blog on the planet that writes about that stuff will do what we do, and link to Youtube. There, at the times of this typing, the Tesla segment already had racked up 336,139 views. (Not counting other clips of the same segment floating around in various digital formats.) If what is said there indeed is lies, then this is how lies multiply.
Should Tesla win, and the segment is blocked from retransmission, that Youtube flick will become a collector’s item. And what will people remember? That the Tesla is running out of battery mighty fast. Which Tesla most likely does not want them to remember.