Star of Tesla-smearing Top Gear is now buying a BMW i3

Top Gear James May
CC BY-SA 2.0 Top Gear's James May, by Tony Harrison

In a funny twist, one of the stars of an extremely popular car show (Top Gear) whose script smeared Tesla is now going electric. James May is getting a BMW i3.

Since the history on this is pretty old, let me start with that. Back in 2008, one of the stars of very popular BBC car show Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson, "test drove" the Tesla Roadster. However, for entertainment purposes, the battery "ran out" of power and "had to be" pushed off the track. The hitch is that it didn't come close to running out of power; the Top Gear crew simply pretended it did.

"In fact, at no time during filming did either of the cars drop below 20% charge," TreeHugger's Sami Grover wrote back in 2008.

Tesla was none too pleased and sued Top Gear for libel. The lawsuit was unsuccessful as the judge indicated that viewers were savvy enough to realize it was faked. Interestingly, this is currently the first sentence on Top Gear's Wikipedia page: "Top Gear is a British television series about motor vehicles, primarily cars, and is the most widely watched factual television programme in the world." Clearly, some people think it's worth watching for its facts.

Anyhow, that's most of the backstory. The news now is that one of the Top Gear stars, James May, is buying a BMW i3 for what seems to be most of his commuting. The BMW i3 is, of course, an electric car. May is buying the version with a gasoline range extender (or I guess he might call it a petrol range extender), the BMW i3 REx, but it's worth noting that this is not supposed to be used like a normal gasoline-electric hybrid. The range extender is very limited and reduces performance quite a bit, so it is really only meant for use in an emergency.

What turned May on to the electric car? Several things. He indicated that it has been known for awhile that electric motors are "the ideal way" to propel a vehicle; he "quite likes" electric cars; he wants to cut his environmental footprint (while not driving his Ferrari); he thinks electric cars are exciting; and he wants to be "part of the 'experiment.'"

One thing to note is that, while Jeremy Clarkson is infamous for being an anti-environmentalist and global warming denier, James May "is perhaps the most progressive of the Top Gear presenters," as Antony Ingram put it, and last year rode around the Isle of Man TT racecourse on an electric motorcycle. His most recent commuter car hasn't been a gas guzzler, but rather a Fiat Panda minicar.

Why'd May get the BMW i3 REx instead of the 100% electric version? He basically indicated that the reason was cowardice. He said the range extender "really ought to be branded 'pure cowardice'... because that's what it is and why I've got one."

Why not the world-leading Tesla Model S and its 200 or so miles of range? Who knows?

If that wasn't too much Top Gear history for you, here's one more article: BBC's Top Gear Test Track Has Gone Solar.

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