The Tesla Roadster was a car ahead of its time back in 2008. During its four=year lifespan, less than 2,500 units of the peppy electric sports car were sold. But for $101,500, that's not exactly an affordable figure for most people. Costs aside, the Roadster had a lot of nifty little features and set the bar high for what an electric sports car could be. Unfortunately, it wasn't nearly as well-known as Tesla's current flagship car, the Model S. So what did Tesla do to promote its brand new machine? Let the boys from Top Gear drive it, of course.
Here's where things get interesting. After Tesla dropped the car off, CEO Elon Musk claimed that one of his employees who was along for the delivery noticed a script for the episode. Inside was a segment about the Tesla breaking down, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Top Gear claimed that the Tesla Roadster ran out of power while driving after just 55 miles (much less than the 200 miles quoted by Tesla, albeit it was being driven hard), a claim that Musk said was untrue. According to him, the Roadster's logs showed that the car had never dipped below 20 percent charge during the entirety of the filming. The clip followed with the Roadster's motor overheating (which wasn't addressed by Musk), and finally, a brake failure which Musk claims was instead a blown fuse and not an equipment failure.
"Battery powered electric cars will soon die altogether," former Top Gear host James May said.
Sure, there were likely some quirks. The Roadster was one of the first of its kind to lay rubber to the road. It was the first long-range electric car that you could buy from a company, achieving 200 miles to a charge. Those lithium-ion batteries it used to store power? The Roadster was the first car to utilize them as its sole power source.
Tesla wasn't thrilled, and neither were investors. Musk was pelted with questions from investors about the episode, asking why the car broke down. Eventually, Tesla filed a libel lawsuit against the show, claiming defamation against the brand.
Tesla's lawsuit alleged a loss of $171,000 in sales as a result of the bad press on Top Gear was ultimately thrown out of British courts for failing to prove that the segment actually caused any damages, despite company claims.
Later on, Musk spoke with BBC about the whole debacle, giving his take on the events that transpired. Musk believes that Top Gear is more about entertainment and less than truth, but feels that Tesla fits Jeremy Clarkson's two pet peeves: American and electric cars.
Even though it received flak, the Roadster was still one interesting ride. One might even call it the "world's best fourth car,", that is, if they could find one of the twenty currently for sale in the United States. Or, if you want a new brand new Next Generation Tesla Roadster, you just have to convince about 50 of your friends to buy a new Model S and Tesla will give you one for free. Hopefully they give the next iteration a run for its money on The Grand Tour to stack it up to its older sibling.