Top Gear Gets Caught By CarWings

By Bill Moore

Posted: 02 Aug 2011

Well, Top Gear's Jeremy 'Petrol-head' Clarkson and the production folks at the BBC's Top Gear television program have gotten themselves into another "sticky wicket."

First they smash a Reva G-Wiz electric car into a crash test barrier at speeds the vehicles wasn't designed for. "There, you see, they aren't safe."

Next they take a Tesla Roadster and precisely as written into the script before they even got the car -- claims Tesla Motors in their lawsuit -- they run it out of juice and have to push it back into the hangar on the abandoned airstrip they were using. Where that lawsuit is at the moment, I can't say.

Their latest 'EV bashing' stunt was to set off for a drive in the Nissan LEAF and then run it out of energy, as well, so they have to again push it, idling their time making rubbings of Lincoln Cathedral, pictured above in a tourism photo.

"There you go, mate, proof electric cars aren't the future."

Uh, and what is, Jeremy? Cars powered by unobtainium?

Well, Mr. Clarkson and his minions might have gotten away with their little stunt in Lincolnshire, but for one little hiccup. Nissan was watching the whole time. No they weren't tagging along literally, but they were there virtually through their CarWings telematic services, which shares data on the car through wireless networks. [See typical display readout below].

While CarWings doesn't necessarily know where you went -- though that data is also available if you program it to receive news alerts and traffic reports -- it does know how you went by silently -- though not secretly -- transmitting information on energy usage, distance and time traveled.

That's likely how Nissan knew that when Clarkson and his co-host James May set out on their little jaunt across the bucolic English countryside, they set off with only enough range to drive 30 miles. According to the Times of London, "Top Gear team intended the drivers to run out of power in Lincoln, knowing there were no public charging points there." Further, viewers were not told that the car had less than half a charge when Clarkson and May set out on the drive. The LEAF has a estimated range on a full charge of more than 90 miles according to the U.S. EPA.

Further, the driver display in front of Clarkson would have shown that the car was low on charge. It quite clearly shows how much range is available. In the case of the above display, 52 miles of driving range. Top Gear's on camera talent would have known this since it was right there in front of their noses.

According to a report on the incident in the First Post, "It was all a set up." Nissan asserts they "delivered the vehicle fully charged, with enough power for 100 miles of driving."

Here's where Top Gear screwed up. Apparently they were unaware that CarWings was watching. States First Post, " But after reviewing the information gathered by the car's monitoring device, Nissan said that when Clarkson set off, the battery was more than half empty, and would have clearly shown a range of only 30 miles on the electric dashboard."


As you might imagine, Nissan is not happy.

"Unsurprisingly Andy Palmer, Nissan's executive vice-president, has complained that the episode was misleading, pointing out that the Nissan Leaf's sat-nav system is deliberately designed to tell drivers if they do not have enough power to reach their destination. Furthermore, it has been suggested that Top Gear drove the cars around Lincoln for 10 miles, draining the battery until it eventually stopped."

The BBC is unapologetic, claiming "The point of the film was to show how bad the charging infrastructure is in the UK. The car needed to run out of charge so that could be demonstrated."

It would have been nice if Top Gear had mentioned that, don't you think?

Ironically, just this week it was announced that Britain has now implement the first motorway charging network anywhere, courtesy of Ecotricity, a major utility provider in the UK.

Clearly, the management at the BBC appears to have a very strong bias against electric vehicles. Last year, they sent reporter in a Think City electric car with a range of 100 miles up to Edinburgh, Scotland in a trip that took something like three or four days with all the stops to recharge along the way. Telsa owner David Peilor heard about and in a rage set off to beat the BBC to Scotland: he did so, handily.

In fairness, the British Broadcasting Corporation also supported an 4,500 mile drive around Europe in another Think city electric car. That report wasn't nearly as disparaging as the London-to-Edinburgh stunt, or those of Top Gear.

Granted, if Britain -- or any other country for that matter -- wants to shift to EVs, then charging infrastructure is needed, but to deliberately stage a drive where they knew no such infrastructure existed, beyond a common household plug, is not only unfair but also unconscionable.

What really makes this a travesty is that Top Gear is syndicated worldwide and their programs are played over and over again. As Tesla learned, once the wrong impression gets out there, it's damned hard to correct it, especially when the BBC accepts no responsibility for the inaccuracies and distortions the series presents. Sadily, it would appear that they have the scruples of the people who hacked the phones of celebrities, politicians, and victims of violence in Britain that led to the shut down of Rupert Murdoch's The News of the World.

CarWings display would have tipped off Nissan to Top Gear's activities.

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