Is ‘Top Gear’ Really Out to Kill the Electric Car?

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Defenders of the show claim that “it’s all in fun,” and that facts reported on the show should be taken with a grain of salt.

Critics, such as those noted above, feel as though the show’s testosterone-laden premise seems intent on seeing the emerging electric car market fail.

So who’s right?

It’s difficult to say. The show itself plays heavily on the fantasies of its audience: Most consumers will never know what it’s like to be behind the wheel of a Ferrari Enzo. And at the same time, the show itself appeals to an extremely niche segment of the market: the well-informed car enthusiast.

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The Nissan LEAF targets eco- and pocket-conscious consumers, a decidedly different segment of market. As history would demonstrate, there’s little trickle down from world class racing technology to consumer vehicles.

Racing buffs would hold that gasoline-powered vehicles are instrumental to carry on the sport’s tradition (perhaps none clearer than the push back stemming from F1’s announcement of an imminent switch to electric vehicles in 2014). It’s a philosophy that’d seemingly go hand-in-hand with the type of thrill Top Gear propagates.

Still, this much is clear: The needs of the consumer market (passenger safety, fuel economy, etc.) have little overlap with what racing enthusiasts want (speed, power, etc.), and it seems unlikely that the show would have any discerning interest in dictating what consumers purchase.

But can Top Gear kill consumer desire for the electric car? It’s unlikely they’d be able to, and there’s no data to suggest that the show—despite its massive audience—has any hold over the buying patterns of its audience the way Oprah would with her book club. Cars are an expensive purchasing decision, one for which most consumers would certainly conduct extensive homework.

In a way, to me it seems that asking Top Gear to stop making fun of electric vehicles is kind of like asking Playboy to tone down on the naked women. Could a non-Playboy reader come across a magazine and find it offensive? Possibly. But most Playboy readers don’t turn to the magazine explicitly for the articles, and similarly, Top Gear fans don’t watch the show for escapist lessons in modesty.

And neither should car buyers.

Chris Gayomali is a writer-reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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