Tesla issued a writ at the High Court in London claiming for libel and malicious falsehood against Top Gear.
The legal spat stems from an episode, first shown in 2008, in which the Tesla Roadster was raced against a petrol-powered Lotus Elise in what was described as the ultimate test for an electric car.
The programme showed the Tesla Roadster dropping speed on the race track and eventually being pushed into a garage to be re-charged.
Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson ended the piece saying: “It’s just a shame that in the real world it doesn’t seem to work.”
But Tesla insist that neither of the Roadsters it lent the programme had fallen below 20% of charge.
The company is claiming the scenes were not a true representation of the car’s performance and that Top Gear “intentionally and/or recklessly, grossly misled potential purchasers of the Roadsters”.
Prior to the race, Clarkson is heard praising the car. After first driving the Roadster he says: “God almighty. Wave goodbye to dial up and say hello to the world of broadband motoring. Twelve and a half thousand RPM. I cannot believe this. That is biblically quick. This car is electric … literally.
“The top speed may only be 125mph but there is so much torque it does 0-60 in 3.9 seconds.
“Not bad for a motor that is the size of a watermelon and only has one moving part.”
The £87,000 Roadster, which can be charged from a standard domestic plug, is the fastest electric vehicle and is favoured by “green” celebrities including George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon.
Tesla spokeswoman Myra Pasek said: “The Tesla Roadster is a ground-breaking electric sports car that – contrary to what Jeremy Clarkson claimed on Top Gear – really does work in the real world.
“We have repeatedly complained about the inaccuracies and have asked the BBC to correct them, but they ignored us. The BBC’s conduct has given us no choice but to sue them and clear up their lies.”
A BBC spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that we have received notification that Tesla have issued proceedings against the BBC.
“The BBC stands by the programme and will be vigorously defending this claim.”