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British court dismisses Tesla Motors lawsuit against BBC

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Noah Berger/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A Tesla Motors Model S electric sedan is driven near the company's factory in Fremont, Calif.

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Tesla, it seems, can’t catch a break in the media in 2013. First, The New York Timespublished a less-than-stellar review of the Model S, criticizing the car’s range in cold weather.

Tesla Motors’ [NSDQ:TSLA] CEO, Elon Musk, was quick to respond with data that  contradicted The New York Times article, but the newspaper didn’t back down.

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Now comes word from Bloomberg that a British appeals court has dismissed Tesla’s second attempt at a libel suit against the BBC, the network behind Top Gear. The dismissal should put an end to the courtroom sparring of Tesla and Top Gear.

In 2008, Top Gear ran a piece that was highly critical of the Tesla Roadster’s range, depicting it as just 55 miles under spirited driving, not the 200 miles claimed by Tesla. Tesla’s original lawsuit against the BBC and Top Gear, filed in March of 2011, alleged libel and malicious falsehood. 

Citing five primary points, Tesla claimed that the popular automotive show falsely depicted a Tesla Roadster with depleted batteries, underestimated the car’s range, dramatized overheating that did not occur, cited brake failure that did not occur and claimed that problems affected two carssupplied by Tesla for the segment.

As a direct result of the Top Gear segment, Tesla alleges it lost out on $171,000 in Roadster sales. A British high court disagreed, ruling in late 2011 that, “no reasonable person could understand that the performance on the track is capable of a direct comparison with a public road.”

In other words, British viewers are intelligent enough to understand that Tesla’s claimed 200 mile range isn’t based on flat-out driving, as one would experience on a test track. Tesla appealed the first court’s decision, but this week a British appeals court upheld the original ruling.

Using similar language to the original verdict, appeals court judge Martin Moore-Bick declared that the Top Gear segment would not have influenced a “reasonable viewer” into believing the Tesla Roadster would deliver less than the claimed 200 miles under normal driving conditions.

Whether based on the Top Gear segment or not, Tesla claims that sales of its Roadster in the U.K. have been lower than expected, especially compared to sales in the U.S. and in Europe. Can Tesla put this behind them and succeed in the U.K with the Model S sedan? We’re sure that Elon Musk is asking that very same question.