Norfolk link as car company sues Top Gear over ‘faked’ car breakdowns

Electric sports car makers Tesla Motors is suing popular BBC programme Top Gear over allegations that it faked scenes showing the company's Roadster car breaking down.

The US firm issued a writ at the High Court in London yesterday over an episode which featured a drag race between a Roadster - the world's only serially produced electric supercar - and a petrol-powered Lotus Elise.

Currently Lotus, based at Hethel near Wymondham, provides Tesla with the partially assembled vehicles into which the electric powertrain is later installed - an agreement which has now been extended until December this year.

Tesla is claiming damages for defamation and malicious falsehood bringing to a head a row which has rumbled on between the company and the BBC since the episode was first broadcast in December 2008. It has since been repeated worldwide and is now available on DVD despite Tesla's objections.

The �87,000 Roadster, which has a top speed of 125mph, can be charged with a standard domestic plug and is favoured by green celebrities including George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon.

It was shown to have dramatically failed the drag race after running out of power and having to be pushed into a Top Gear hangar.

A second Roadster's motor was then shown to overheat, while viewers were later told that the first car's brakes had broken while charging.

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Presenter Jeremy Clarkson said calculations by the Top Gear teamed indicated that the car could only travel 55 miles per charge, rather than the 211 advertised, and concluded: 'What we have here then is an astonishing technical achievement. The first electric car that you might actually want to buy, it's just a shame that in the real world it doesn't seem to work.'

Tesla said neither Roadster had fallen below 20pc charge claiming the breakdowns were staged and the statements were untrue.

In a statement, the company said: 'Tesla wants people to know the truth and correct the public's misperceptions. The Roadster and its EV technology, as well as EVs generally, have been unfairly and viciously maligned by Top Gear.

'Tesla simply wants Top Gear to stop rebroadcasting this malicious episode and to correct the record, but they've repeatedly ignored Tesla's requests.'

A spokesman for the BBC said: 'We can confirm that we have received notification that Tesla have issued proceedings against the BBC. The BBC stands by the programme and will be vigorously defending this claim.'

Lotus declined to comment on the case.