Wednesday, December 31, 2008

BBC puts standards aside: yes, it's Clarkson again

Some might say that horrible Clarkson fellow is an easy target, certainly he was to pie throwers a while back. However, I think we do the BBC a disservice if we allow them the excuse of "oh, no one takes us seriously do they?" The thing is, having a resident climate denying maverick may well be good for the ratings (or not, I've no idea) but telling lies about cars on a program that ultimately is meant to inform viewers about motor vehicles really is crap.

Let's take a look at Clarkson's review of the electric sports car the "Tesla".

Well, it's interesting isn't it?

You have a whole load of unexpectedly glowing reports for the car there. "Biblically quick!" and a tenth of the normal running costs is not faint praise by any stretch of the imagination. It has the feel of a very fair and positive review, but of course that's to give the whole piece credibility, indeed at the end of the piece he whines "I tried to be fair, I tried to be fair, but it just didn't work."

You see when we come 4 mins 30 secs in the video the Tesla simply conks out (after 55 miles) and we see the poor little thing being shoved back into the warehouse. Clarkson sadly informs us that after running out of juice so rapidly it will take 16 hours to refuel and therefore it would take days to get to Scotland at that rate (presumably for people who don't live in Scotland) and that the Teslas were, frankly, unreliable.

He finishes the piece by saying "The Tesla is an astonishing technical achievement - the first electric car you might actually want to buy. It's just a shame that in the real world, it doesn't seem to work."

It's interesting what trying to be fair might mean in the context where you essentially tell lies. You see, in the real world, it didn't break down after 55 miles and didn't need to be pushed back to the garage. At all. It was a re-imagining of what might happen if it did. But they forgot to tell us that.

Tesla also cast doubt on Clarkson's claim that it took 16 hours to charge saying usually it took 3.5 hours to refuel and that his claims about breakdowns were pure hyperbole.

The BBC stated that "Top Gear stands by the findings in this film and is content that it offers a fair representation of the Tesla's performance on the day it was tested," because "the tested Tesla was filmed being pushed into the shed in order to show what would happen if the Roadster had run out of charge." Which is frankly playing with words, particularly when you consider that the post road testing analysis in the studio clearly revolves around the fact it clunked out - even though it didn't.

In what world does a piece that features a car breaking down half way through when it just didn't offer a "fair representation of the Tesla's performance on the day it was tested"? I mean come on, don't make me call the BBC complaints department, you can do better than this BBC - I just know you can.

Hat tip Cruella


Justin said...

I take it in the next edition Clarkson will show us what happens if the petrol-fuelled cock rocket he's testing runs out of juice. What's that? He won't? Amazing.

James said...

Justin, that's happened on several occasions on Top Gear. One instance involved a car Clarkson later went on to buy for himself.

What you have here is the manufacturer's word against the reviewers. In all other respects, Clarkson's Tesla review was entirely, enthusiastically positive. The same episode reviewed, entirely positively, Honda's new hydrogen vehicle. I think Tesla's reaction to the review is needlessly negative. They did well out of Top Gear - their car was shown as a thrilling piece of kit anyone would be proud to own.

People are desperate for a clean car - we're all well aware that we need one, soon, and desperately. So, people are desperate for the Tesla, the best effort yet, to be "the" answer. So are Tesla, not surprisingly, and for more than merely environmental reasons.

But that doesn't impose an obligation on reviewers to make the car better than it really is. As it happened, all Tesla have achieved is to take the one bit of criticism they received and draw a mountain of extra attention to it.

Clarkson provides a useful service in that a good proportion of the population actually think in the manner he acts out on TV (and some people forget that it is after all a public persona). They need persuading too. I can't help thinking that, in respect to that constituency, all they've done is draw further attention to the remaining drawbacks of electric vehicles. Drawbacks that, as the later Honda review demonstrated, are answered by the new hydrogen cars.

Not a few of the anti-Top Gear commentators have put it about that this was an anti-green episode rubbishing efforts to come up with a clean car. It just wasn't. I suspect some of them of commenting without having actually watched the programme.

Jim Jay said...

Umm, that's not right James. First of all the BBC accept that the car did not break down - they just don't see anything wrong with that.

There is no obligation on reviewers to pretend the car is better than it is - but pretending that it breaks down when it doesn't is usually called lying. Oh no, the BBC were re-imagining a what if scene, my mistake.

The idea that you can have a positive review with just one little criticism - that it's completely unreliable and liable to break down - does not make it a positive review because there is nothing worse you can say about a car - apart from possibly it blows up or something. It's sugar to make the pill easier to swallow.

It all comes down to a very simple fact. The car did not break down and the BBC were wrong to give that impression.