By on December 15, 2008

Last night’s TopGear (which will air in the U.S. by 2015 or on your computer now) featured Jeremy “The Gentle Giant” Clarkson driving the Tesla Roadster. His observations?

The good: Same time around the track as a Porsche GT3. No gas. Very fast in straight lines. Looks good. Very fast in straight lines. Cheap to fill up compared to a gas/diesel car.

The bad: Handling only so-so, because of the low-resistance tires and the 1000 lbs added by 6831 batteries in the middle of the car. Ample road noise. Green-ambiguity of electric cars & power production.

The ugly: After caning it, Clarkson got 55 miles of range. In a 13 amp UK socket, he estimated a 16 hour recharge time. Tesla had to bring two cars. One overheated while driving (on the track), the other’s brakes “broke” while it was recharging.

Clarkson calls the car a stunning “technical achievement” but finishes by saying it is “completely irrelevant” as he previews a later segment on Honda’s fuel cell car, the Clarity FCX.

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45 Comments on “Jeremy Clarkson Drives the Tesla...”

  • avatar

    So I extrapolate about 120-150 miles with normal driving…Clarkson ‘caning it’ eats batteries.

    It IS a technical achievement; it is stunning? maybe not. BOTH CARS BROKE; if this was a GM/Ford/Toyondissan, they’d be howling over the lack of reliability. I haven’t seen it; do they give TESLA a pass on that?

    The main issue is that TESLA has built a halo car with nothing to support it. It’s small, impractical, and heavy. While I’m sure it was great for luring VC money, it doesn’t have a broad enough market to support a car company. With TESLA out of cash to develop the White Elephant sedan, where do they go from here?

    Oh yeah, to the taxpayers…

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    I think it’s just fine for what it is: a really expensive toy. I don’t have any problems with the Tesla roadster itself – I even think it’s a clever idea.

    The issue is just that the MSM press has gone bonkers over it. The Tesla is not: the future of driving, a super green car, extremely practical, a daily driver (probably not), a replacement car for someone that wants another sports car.

    It is, however: fast, fun, different.

  • avatar

    So Justin…

    It would be a neat kit car. Which is really all it is – except it comes pre-assembled.

    And many kit cars are more reliable, and better thought out.

    This Tesla thing sounds like a good candidate for a Dea…. Oh, never mind.

  • avatar

    I also really like the Tesla car as such. It’s not the savior of the planet and neither the future of driving, but I dig it. Well, as long as it doesn’t break guess…

    Now Tesla the company is a different matter…

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “1000 lbs added by 6831 batteries in the middle and low-resistance tires”

    Why did they put the batteries in the tires?

  • avatar

    # Robert Schwartz :
    December 15th, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    “1000 lbs added by 6831 batteries in the middle and low-resistance tires”

    Why did they put the batteries in the tires?

    You’re missing a comma. The battery goes in the middle (center) of the car, low — and they have low resistance tires. (Or tyres, as they say.)

    Quite damning. And “James” was adamant that the Clarity from Honda is the future of motive force for cars, making all EVs irrelevant.

  • avatar

    Data point: 5 seconds faster around the Top Gear track than a 42 year old E-type Jaguar. The Jag however, can turn >10X as many laps per “fillup”.

    I’ll take the Jaguar.


  • avatar

    Jason Calacanis was on TWIT yesterday talking about his Tesla again. He states that he gets 200 miles on a charge and that it cost’s him $2 to charge it. He also said that TESLA is hard at work building a SUPER CHARGER (not Rootes) that will fill her up in about an Hour.

  • avatar

    The Tesla is Lotus with batteries which makes its reliability above average for a Lotus. The question should be if Tesla is a good sportcar which is not the same as a good racecar which it obviously isn’t.

    ps. Wasn’t that Jag upgraded with modern technology and one of the most beautiful cars ever designed

  • avatar

    It IS a technical achievement; it is stunning? maybe not. BOTH CARS BROKE; if this was a GM/Ford/Toyondissan, they’d be howling over the lack of reliability. I haven’t seen it; do they give TESLA a pass on tha

    Of course there would be howling if a Corolla broke after a few laps. It’d be a shameful, horrible design that couldn’t go the distance.

    But this is Tesla. Would anyone be surprised if a Noble, Spyker, TVR, or Morgan had all sorts of issues and defects that simply would be unacceptable in a Malibu?

    This is the first car Tesla has built. It seems like a good start. No one is going to buy one that doesn’t have plenty of other cars to drive, so if it doesn’t have much range, breaks often, you know what?

    You got the only Tesla on your block, at the tennis club’s lot, and anywhere else you go.

  • avatar

    How on earth does Jeremy Clarkson fit into an Elise/Tesla? He looks like a freak next to it at the start of the video.

    Also, why do people always single out the battery weight. From an engineering point of view, it’s the NET difference in the comparable drivetrain we’re interested in and where the weight is (center-of-gravity).

  • avatar
    tesla deathwatcher

    Not surprising that Tesla is having trouble with its cars. It’s not easy to make a reliable car. Consider the Roadster to still be in beta testing. Or maybe even alpha.

    By the way, unless Tesla has changed the name of the Roadster, it is not “called the Tesla.” And I wouldn’t say it was “made in California” — it’s made in the UK.

  • avatar

    Anybody that thinks a car running on hydrogen has more of a future than one running on electricity either has rocks in his head or an agenda. At least electricity is already distributed through an established grid. Improvements are needed in the technology to make it a real contender to cars running on liquid fuels, which also have a nationwide distribution network, but it’s a heck of a lot closer than a less efficient technology with no real fuel distribution network like hydrogen powered vehicles.

  • avatar


    I think the issue is that the success of electric cars hinges on the creation of a miracle battery, which may not even be possible. With hydrogen, we already have fuel stations, they need only start carrying hydrogen fill up stations, and we need a system for creating and transporting the hydrogen. It’s less efficient, but it’s a clearer solution. I’d rather things go electric, and hopefully the technology will keep getting better, but for now, hydrogen seems more feasible.

  • avatar

    @ Demetri

    In a sense, there is already a “miracle” battery, in the methanol fuel cell which huge organisations like Matsushita are currently pursuing for laptops.

    You get about 20 times the energy density (I think that’s right) of Lion. The electric recharging equipment is expensive, but if you “refill” the methanol it’s not expensive at all.

    Methanol refilling could be put into service via the existing petrol/gasoline infrastructure. Plus cars could be equipped with the necessary methanol fuel cell electric recharge equipment (rather than methanol refill), or you could just keep it at home.

    The problem with all this? You don’t want people burning to death in invisible methanol fires, and it’s probably marginally less efficient to just burn the ethanol in a combustion engine a-la Cart/Indy.

    I’m sure someone with more knowledge than myself can comment further. We have methanol fuel cell buses in Australia as trials doing quite nicely.

  • avatar

    Recently, a new battery technology made the news. Its silicon nanotech that through some sort of magic is supposed to increase the charge density by an order of magnitude for lithium ion batteries. Divide by two for the hype/hope factor and that may still be 275 Clarkson miles and 550 regular miles. Alternatively it would be 275 ordinary miles or maybe more at half the battery weight. Is that still irrelevant compared to the equally commercially unproved hydrogen/fuel cell technology?

  • avatar

    @ Lumbergh21

    Hydrogen is the most abundant resource known to man. It will eliminate the excess weight with the batteries. Also you can eliminate reliance of a corporation to supply your fuel conveniently channeled through a nozzle by having a small station at home on solar power and just add water as the machine does the rest. Honda/BMW has taken the lead in hydrogen and it wont be too long for everyone else will follow.

  • avatar

    @ minion444

    Does not justify the near 100k price tag.

  • avatar

    @ BMW325I

    One of the problems with Hydrogen is not so much creating it, but storing it and the infrastructure that goes with it, as you store it under pressure. That means new infrastructure everywhere.

    With methanol, you don’t store it under pressure. It’s just a liquid you can transport around and serve up in similar ways to what we understand now.

    The methanol fuel cell, still allows you to “charge at home” with the right equipment.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “Hydrogen is the most abundant resource known to man. It will eliminate the excess weight with the batteries.”

    You going to store it at 10,000 psi or as a liquid at 400 degrees below zero?

    “With methanol, you don’t store it under pressure. It’s just a liquid you can transport around and serve up in similar ways to what we understand now.”

    Sure, and it can be used in modern ICE engines, too. But so what. There is no real advantage to running the Methanol through a fuel cell. Unless, you just have to have another device on your car that uses $2000/oz. platinum catalysts.

    The real question is why. What problem are you trying to solve.

  • avatar

    Did they dub in drive-by sounds for the Tesla?

    BMW325I :
    December 15th, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    After you figure out how to store it, you’ll have to figure out how to produce it without fossil fuels to make it worth it’s while.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    re 55 miles when he belted it round the track. When he did the same to a Prius he got 17 mpg, so the rule of thumb seems to be to multiply hard charging test track mpg by 2.5 or 3 to get to real world mpg. ish.

  • avatar

    Future improvements in battery capacity are well and good, but as they astutely pointed out in the episode, there’s no way to charge the car in any reasonable time on the road. There are only so many amps you can cram in at once. With a 600 mile range, your car essentially becomes limited to an area around your house with a radius of 300 miles. We love to roam far and wide in this country. I’m not convinced people will accept that sort of limitation in a sole vehicle.

    It’s all a bit moot at the moment. Battery costs would have drop by a factor of 5, and both improve in reliability and increase capacity by a factor of 3 before anyone will take them seriously as a unassisted power source. That’s some serious innovation left to be done.

  • avatar

    Pretty sad that their, hopefully thoroughly worked over, press cars broke down.

  • avatar

    Why the hell do they bother squeezing all the technology into a car this size?

    Why have a really fast 2-seater sports car when the real market that desires these is a mid/large sedan like a Chrysler 300 or Honda Accord?

    I’m glad Clarkson mentioned the obvious fact that there is no reliable way to charge these unless you’ve got outdoor sockets – which isn’t too hard to get, but, its obvious the batteries aren’t going to last for their proposed lifetime and its obvious a country like America doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle these.

    We need NUCLEAR POWER and a new infrastructure, otherwise, these things are a fantasy.

  • avatar

    Pretend for a moment we build out the ‘hydrogen’ economy.

    Forget the money, the time, the ecological impact of just building all that infrastructure…

    The tiniest bit of hydrogen will escape every time you transfer from one place to another.

    The models have been run. It’s horrible for global warming.

  • avatar

    When the zombie apocalypse comes (and it will), I will use my lips and a trusty rubber hose to siphon gas from the thousands of cars left on the road after their drivers were cruelly devoured by the undead horde. I will then use that fuel to drive my armored 4×4 SUV cross country as I make my way to a better life on a small island off the coast of Maine. Or, in a pinch, spray it on the shuffling ghouls and light them ablaze, just to watch them burn.

    You can’t do that with your fancy Tesla.

  • avatar


    Hyrdogren is nowhere near as bad for the ecosystems as sulfur, CO2, and all the other nasty gases emmitted from fossil fuel burning. Not to mention the carcinogens…and everyone wants to know why cancer rates are so high LOL.

  • avatar

    @ KnightRT

    there’s no way to charge the car in any reasonable time on the road

    Absolutely right, which is why hybrids like the Prius are the compromises they are (ie with an ICE), and exactly why a refillable fuel cell is a likely requirement for EVs.

    Otherwise, I believe there’s a company proposing to setup battery interchange stations everywhere. Like swapping your laptop battery for one in your bag only bigger! If I recall, they’re being trialled in Europe somewhere (Netherlands??).

    Battery costs would have drop by a factor of 5

    Which is why it hasn’t been done yesterday. EVs aren’t exactly a new idea.

    @ Flashpoint


    Nah. Uranium will run out too, 50 years without breeders, maybe more with breeders, which are even dirtier.

    Google CETO wave power, and Ausra Inc. Both Australian!

    Now if I had a proton drive Tesla, I could go fast AND irradiate the people trying to follow me!

  • avatar

    I agree with Lumbergh21, hydrogen as a practical mass market solution is never going to happen. Honda, bless their pointed little heads (hey, I LIKE Hondas, I own one now), will keep flogging the concept as is their wont, but I expect they’ll set about as much of the world on fire with the Clarity and its descendants as they did with that oval-pistoned motorcycle engine they dreamed up in the ’80s.

  • avatar

    Haha that was funny, both cars broke down in less than a day. I thought electric cars were goingot be more reliable since they have less moving parts. With a 1000 lbs of batteries and a 200 mile range(maybe) I would say EVs still have a long way to go, at least for the Tesla fellas. That is way too much weigh to haul around your stored power in something that relies on being light to get any range.

  • avatar

    Seems like a lot of people enjoyed seeing the cars break down. Is everyone happy they failed? I think this is a supercar. Cutting edge technology thats basically a toy for rich people. Look at all the problems gas powered supercars have. Remember Vector? Look at the Caparo T1. At least this one doesn’t catch fire (…yet).

    So they haven’t put hundreds of people in an electric sports car that gets 250 miles/charge. But the only mistake they made was hyping it up too much. Oh and asking for a bailout. I wish we had more people shooting for the moon than leveraging credit default swaps and flipping houses.

  • avatar

    To those who mention the recharging and range limitations of an electric car, I realize that and have said as much in past posts. However, compared to the problems associate with hydrogen, electric cars seem perfect. In addition to the problem of storing the hydrogen, the production of the hydrogen by creating electricity (mostly through fossil fuels), then using the electricity to create the hydrogen, then using the hydrogen to generate mechanical work to move the vehicle just adds one more inefficiency to the process as compared to electric cars. I think that eventially, though probaly not in my life time, mass transit will be the only way to move long distances and cars will become the means of transportation for short distances e.g. to work, pick up the kids, etc. In this scenario, electric cars will work just fine. Since this will occur slowly over a period of at least 100 years or more (we really aren’t that short of fossil fuels), people will come to accept it just as they got used to moving away from mass transit (trains) for long distance travel and into cars starting 50 to 60 years ago.

  • avatar
    Tricky Dicky

    Clarkson said that he was blown away by the performance of the Tesla. The straight line drag race against the standard Elise was an easy victory for the battery powered car. You could see he was shocked.

    But as with every niche vehicle, as soon as you use it beyond the foreseen design purpose, it underdelivers.

    The Tesla I do not think is supposed to be the last word in performance. It looks to me like it is supposed to be a sporty short distance commuter car. And yes, it is a beta test for a new kind of vehicle. The curly-haired giant acknowledged as much and said they would surely improve both the reliability and the range. He then dismissed the vehicle by pointing to the Honda Clarity FCX and I think they completely missed the point in the show.

    They said, why have a battery powered car when you can have one with it’s own in-built electricity generator (the Hydrogen Fuel Cell). Well, I’ll tell you the reason. Because once you’ve driven your 250 miles worth of Hydrogen, you will end up dead stopped on the road, about 250 miles away from the nearest hydrogen re-filling station. I’d bet money you’d find a 13amp power outlet nearer….

    It seems to me that The hybrid concept is still the best bet whilst we are in between greater battery capabilities and the evolution of a hydrogen filling infrastructure. Oil is made from dead dinosaurs and hardly represents the best future.

  • avatar

    I would be happy to congratulate the folks at Tesla for their achievement, but I can’t. They over promised and over hyped. Now I just don’t want to do business with them, and I will likely get a small amount of schaedenfreude if/when they fail.

  • avatar

    It’s beyond me why anybody would take anything Jeremy Clarkson says seriously. He is an idiot catering to idiots. Top Gear is not about facts, it’s about entertainment.

    Every “race”is staged. Every car is either fabulous, or absolute crap. When a report starts negative, you know there will be a turn in the middle and the car will turn out to be fabulous after all. And the other way around. This is what happened to the Tesla.

    When it run out of juice it was STAGED. Clearly Clarkson doesn’t drive 55 miles to do a few shots for an item. The 55 miles figure is extremely likely to be adjusted to make the Tesla look as useless as possible to fit the theme of the item.

    I love Top Gear for it’s entertainment value, but I never make the mistake of ever believing anything the good people of Top Gear are telling me.

  • avatar

    Tesla has spent several hundred million dollars to take an electric drivetrain from a third party and transplant it into a Lotus chassis. And as Top Gear’s test shows, Tesla still can’t get it to work reliably.

    Put a fork in the Tesla hype machine. They’re done.

  • avatar

    @dutchchris: Jeremy Clarkson is an idiot in the same way Steven Colbert is a far right wing pundit. He has a persona to deliver a few key facts (yes facts) in a highly entertaining way.

    They only estimated it would get 55 miles on the track. Also, one car (not both) broke down. The other just ran out of juice.

  • avatar

    Also, one car (not both) broke down. The other just ran out of juice.

    The story indicated that one overheated, and the other had a problem with the brakes. They both broke down, it just so happens that the one with the brake problem also needed charging.

    The 55 miles figure is extremely likely to be adjusted to make the Tesla look as useless as possible to fit the theme of the item.

    It makes sense, actually. If the car is being driven at 10/10th’s around a track, it should require plenty of power, draining the batteries quickly. There is also little opportunity for the regenerative braking system to charge the batteries when driven under those conditions, making it even shorter.

    If you were puttering through urban traffic, with a lot of stopping and slowing, it’s quite possible that you could wring more distance and running time from the car. On a track, driven all out, you’d expect the results to be quite different.

  • avatar

    @cbk: to further illustrate my point: did you see the James May’s contribution of the Honda FCX Clarity? Here we have Captain Slow travelling all the way to the States to testdrive the Clarity, only to mindlessly parrot all the crap the hydrogen people fed him.

    Together with Clarkson’s carefully constructed failure of the Roadster the two gentleman together promoted the message that the car industry wants us to believe: BEV’s are crap, hydrogen is the future.

    What nit wit May failed to mention was that hydrogen is in fact rainbow technology: you can run towards it all you want but you will never get to the pot of gold that’s supposed to lie underneath it. Hydrogen is promoted because it is something of the future and it always will be something of the future by an industry that desperately tries to cling on to the status quo.

  • avatar

    @Pch: you do have a point of course about the 55 miles figure. Even Tesla founder Martin Eberhart states on his blog that the Roadster won’t do more than 150 miles even on a good day, let alone if you trash it on a track.

    Still this doesn’t warrant Clarkson’s conclusion that ergo BEV’s are irrelevant and hydrogen is the future somehow. One has to keep in mind that the genius of the Tesla is the way they worked their way around the non-existence of large batteries for BEV’s by welding together some 6800 laptop batteries. Clever, but it was always going to be a compromise.

    Never mind though, if the figures that BYD states for it’s lithium phosphate powered PHEV that it launched yesterday check out Mr. Clarkson along with the rest of the industry will learn the truth about future cars soon enough.

  • avatar

    “Still this doesn’t warrant Clarkson’s conclusion that ergo BEV’s are irrelevant and hydrogen is the future somehow.”

    Agreed. But how did you come to the conclusion that Hydrogen powered cars will never work? Humans can slow down light to a walking pace, teleport subatomic particles, and eat burritos cooked by a radio. That’s not proof that it will someday be possible to cost effectively store hydrogen. But do you have proof that it will be forever impossible?

  • avatar

    “Hydrogen is the most abundant resource known to man.”

    It is the most abundant element known to man but H2 isn’t exactly abundant outside a Hummer dealership.

    If electric powered cars are common than highways with a third rail will be common to. In which case an electric car wont make sense everywhere. But those places are often the places were a SUV makes sense.

  • avatar

    “Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say that there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.” Frank Zappa

    God I loved that man….

  • avatar
    mark howarth

    You are all missing the point – the truth about cars is that the big companies are all ripping us off to travel around.The car companies and the oil companies all have a vested interest in the electric car not succeeding.G.M tried to kill the electric car but it is coming back with a vengeance.
    Anyone who knows about hydrogen technology knows that it is not a good solution + the oil companies are all diversifying into it as a clean energy because they know the internal combustion engined cars are not only killing the climate but killing us with their fumes.
    We should all stick to fingers up to the big companies that are ripping us off.
    Clarkson is totally biased and it has been said that he is getting lots of money for knocking electric cars.We should tell him and his range rover driving cronies where to go as they are the selfish folk who are controlling the the brains of the flock of sheep we call the average human being.People who cannot think for themselves and research the facts.This comment will probably not be added to this site as it does not tow the line of the people who run it!
    It is more truthful than most of the other comments

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