Let's Talk About That Smashing Tesla Cybertruck Debut

Tesla’s Cybertruck is flashy, techy, and maybe out of step

We were warned by no less than Elon Musk that the Tesla pickup truck, now known as the Cybertruck, would be different.

Last March as Musk was queuing Tesla fans up for the Model Y crossover EV event, he revealed where his true passion lay:

“Personally, I’m most excited by the Tesla Truck. Maybe it will be too futuristic for most people, but I love it,” wrote Musk on Twitter.

On late Thursday night, the Cybertruck rolled onto a Hawthorne, California, stage (outside the SpaceX offices) and more than lived up to that “futuristic” label.

Tesla Cybertruck
Not an image from Blade Runner.  Lifewire / Tesla

With its DeLorean-like stainless steel body, trapezoid profile, and eyebrow-raising edges, the Tesla Cybertruck looks nothing like the Ford F-150s it’s designed to supplant or, really, any other sinuous Tesla electric vehicle currently on the road.

It looks, if I’m being honest, like a too-faithful recreation of an auto designer’s concept truck vision.

Too Much

It’s a design that I find equal parts exciting and confusing. Taking the venerable pickup truck esthetic in a new direction is inspiring and as bracing as shoving your face in a bucket of ice water. And, no matter what other auto manufacturers may think of the Cybertruck design, they should pay heed to its specs. On paper, at least, they outstrip the best Ford and Chevy have to offer.

According to Tesla:

  • 0-to-60 in 2.9 seconds
  • All-Wheel-Drive
  • Autopilot (Full self-driving)
  • “Corners like it’s on rails"
  • Adaptive suspension
  • 3,500 lb. payload
  • 7,500 lb. (up to 14,000 lb.) towing capacity
  • 16-inch clearance
  • Built-in in 110v/220v outlets
  • Built-in compressor

On the other hand, if Tesla’s hoping to capture the all-important pickup truck market, which accounts for the lion’s share of vehicle sales in the U.S., that design could be a misfire. Not because it’s ugly. Foreign? Yes. Ugly, no. However, the Cybertruck resembles a truck in much the same way “Ecco Homo” (after the restoration) resembled Jesus.

Pickup truck design has evolved at its own glacial pace over the course of decades, which means a pickup truck from 1954 is still recognizable as a close relative of the modern Ford F-150. What will pickup truck customers make of the Cybertruck’s aggressively modern profile?

What Truck Customers Want

I’ve never owned a truck. The closest I ever came was when my parents owned a Plymouth Trail Duster. It was pickup-truck-sized, but instead of an open bed, it had a second row of seats and behind that a large, covered cargo area. It was great for hauling boxes of stuff to the flea market and for navigating Colorado’s snow packed winters. For much of my life, though, I've lived on the east coast, the land of the sedan. Naturally my dream Tesla is a Model 3. Basically, I don’t know much about the modern pick-up truck owner.

Taking the venerable pickup truck esthetic in a new direction is inspiring and as bracing as shoving your face in a bucket of ice water.

What I do know, though, is that as passenger vehicle sales have dipped, pickup truck sales have taken over. In fact, Ford’s F-150 is consistently the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.

Truck owners also, apparently, have a unique bond with the vehicles. According to a 2018 Harris/Chevy survey, more than a quarter of truck owners name their vehicles. More than a third of them love their trucks over all other objects they own. 60% told surveyors they could not live without their trucks, and more than half the respondents consider the pickup truck a member of the family.

Yeah, it’s all a little weird, but also worth considering if you plan to enter the pickup truck market.

A Great Big Show

Elon Musk wasn’t concerned with feelings and family. Instead, he was focused on Thursday night, as he often is at these events, on razzle dazzle. So, in addition to the speeds and feeds details, Musk conducted some real-time feats of pickup truck strength. All did not go as planned.

The Cybertruck’s cold-rolled stainless-steel exterior held up just fine when Musk’s assistant Franz swung a sledgehammer into it and when, in a pre-tapped video, they shot it with a 9mm bullet. Similarly, when they dropped a fist-sized steel ball bearing on the Tesla Armor Glass, which is used in the windows and windshield, the glass did not shatter.

Things went awry, though, when Musk, from the looks of things, went off script and asked Franz to throw the same metal ball at one of the Cybertruck windows. The ball bounced off, but the glass was shattered.

A clearly shocked Musk said, “"Oh my f...ing God. Well, maybe that was a little too hard."

Tesla Cybertruck demo
One the left, the metal ball is defeated by the Tesla Armor Glass. On the right, the metal ball wins.  Lifewire / Tesla

For some reason Musk allowed an over-eager Franz to throw the ball more gently at another Cybertruck window, with predictable results.

We were also treated to videos of the Cybertruck beating a Porsche 911 in a drag race and a Ford F-150 in a tug-of-war. The latter probably most appealed to a true pickup truck audience.

Musk probably didn’t help himself by introducing a Tesla ATV as his “one more thing.” Unlike the Cybertruck, the ATV looked just like any other all-terrain vehicle. I noticed on Twitter quite a few people asking for price and availability on it. The next day Musk shared that the ATV, which can recharge in the Truck’s flatbed (which has a cool roll-top but also an awkward-looking gate and extendible ramp), will be available as a Cybertruck option. You know, like chrome rims.

Tesla Cybertruck
An Tesla ATV driving onto the CyberTruck.  Lifewire / Tesla

So What

I won’t pretend to understand the pickup truck market, but I thought I might be able to quickly assess the temperature of the room with a Twitter poll that asked a simple question: “Would you drive a Tesla Cybertruck?” Yes or No. My 2,609 votes were split precisely down the middle.

That’s not necessarily bad news for Tesla, but it’s not a ringing endorsement, either. If the excitement level was right, I would’ve expected at least a 70/30 split in favor of a Cybertruck drive.

Elon Musk
Living with your mistakes.  Tesla

Musk was smart enough to start the Cybertruck at $39,000 (roughly $10K more than a baseline Ford F-150) and its all-electric benefits are inescapable. There will, when it ships in 2022, be fewer moving parts, fewer repairs, a reliance on cheaper-than-gas electricity, and a per charge range that starts at healthy 300 miles. The $69,000 tri-motor option extends the range to over 500 miles (a Ford F-150’s 26-gallon tank can deliver almost 700 miles).

These numbers should position the Cybertruck among the pickup truck market consideration set. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling that Tesla and Musk struck the wrong note with a “too futuristic” design that appeals to tech and EV nerds while ignoring the core pickup truck market, 27% of which name their truck Betsy. Does the Tesla Cybertruck look like a “Betsy” to you?

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