I couldn’t sleep much last night. My dreams were filled with visions of stainless steel triangles, glass cracking and electric ATVs flying through the air. The Tesla Cybertruck, she is a demon who haunts my nightmares and will not give me a moment’s peace! The thing is, after a lot of thought, I don’t hate Tesla’s truck. But I am perplexed by it, and not convinced it’s going to be the kind of volume-seller that can take on the Ford F-150 and the rest.
I just want to be clear, right off the bat, that I love weird automotive design. I’m also quite fond of simple, possibly even crude designs. I’m not afraid of new, even strange automotive ideas. And yet, somehow, I still can’t even with this new Tesla Cybertruck, a truck that finally answers the question of what would a truck look like if it was designed on a Nintendo 64 and built in a country with zero ability to stamp steel. That’s a question, it should be noted, that no one fucking asked.Read more
Don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of brilliant in its brazenness. Trucks are considered the breadwinners of a big automaker’s lineup, and as such, companies are terrified of messing with them too much. To get a truly new, fresh idea in the world of pickup trucks, we needed a company like Tesla. And Tesla delivered.
Still, a few hours after the unveiling of what might be the most controversial vehicle I’ve ever covered, my feelings are mixed. It’s ambitious to the point of being outlandish, absolutely unique, and hard to fathom as something that might actually be on the road someday.
But I think what will go on sale—if Tesla can make that happen, and that’s always a big if—in a few years won’t be exactly what you saw last night. It can’t be. And I’m not sure it’s going to be a success, either.
This Was A Huge Shock To Everyone, And That’s Great
A few months ago, when I sat down to write about the Tesla Model Y’s debut, I struggled to find something interesting to say about it. Then I decided that was kind of the point.
The Model Y is as normal as you get. It’s a crossover version of the Model 3. It came with no surprises. It has great specs, better than a lot of EV crossovers out now or due out soon, but it didn’t feel revolutionary at all. Of course not. It’s meant to be the volume play Tesla needs.
To me, the Model Y ushered in a new era at Tesla—one where it felt more and more like a normal, grown-up car company that launches normal, mainstream, mass-selling products. The Model Y reveal felt like Tesla moved out of its adolescent phase and put on a blazer and got a respectable job somewhere.
If that’s the case, then the Cybertruck is Tesla’s crazy mid-life crisis. It’s the Elon Musk equivalent of your dad buying a Corvette with a matching Corvette leather jacket and Corvette hat to prove he’s still fuckin’ got it, man. Except Elon Musk isn’t your dad and he’s not a normal human being, so what we got here involves Blade Runner, stainless steel and (allegedly) bulletproof armour.
Aesthetically, I don’t like the looks of the Cybertruck. But I deeply appreciate how it boldly reimagines what we think a truck even is. Watching last night’s unveiling was shocking to me in a way I’ve never felt from any car debut before.
Nine times out of 10, these things are just a middle-aged white dude in an ill-fitting suit standing on stage spouting off bullshit like “Today’s Acura owner is on an upward trajectory” next to a crossover that looks like it could come from any brand, all while the reporters and civilians alike in the audience fight to stay awake or at least remember where the good coffee is.
This wasn’t that. Not at all. Even the Mustang Mach-E feels like a sane, safe product decision by comparison. Everything about this was so unhinged that we wondered if we were watching a practical joke instead of a car reveal, Musk’s way of Punking everybody on the planet all at once. Especially when the supposedly bulletproof glass broke. That added a layer of absurdity to a night that was not lacking in them.
If you’re really sick of boring and normal cars—and if you read this website you probably feel that way—then you have to appreciate the unrepentant weirdness of the Cybertruck on at least some level.
It’s Very Utilitarian—And Unibody
Musk was actually right when he said that trucks haven’t changed much in about 100 years. Sure, they’re bigger, more efficient, more powerful, more expensive and more luxurious than ever, but the basic body-on-frame with a bed setup hasn’t changed much over the decades.
This is something wildly different, and from the way that Musk described it last night, it does have some heavy work vehicle pretensions. It only comes in stainless steel silver. It’s function over aesthetics. And while it can supposedly outrun a Porsche 911 in a straight line, Musk says the intent is to make a truck that can help us achieve “sustainable energy.” That to me implies this truck is meant to do the business of towing and hauling—things we need a truck for.
I also appreciate the fact that it’s a unibody truck. One of my all-time favourite David Tracy jams is about how more mid-size trucks actually should be unibody like the Honda Ridgeline, and if an automaker is new to making trucks, going unibody from the outset makes more sense than most people realise.
Tesla also discarded the frame for the Cybertruck, and if the final specs are anything close to what we saw last night, it’ll be plenty capable without it.
It Can’t Look (Exactly) Like That
Despite what Musk said, the truck we saw last night doesn’t really look like something that can be mass-produced as-is. There are barely any taillights or rear turn signals. The “headlights” are a sort of thin horizontal bar across the front. It doesn’t have side mirrors at all.
Plus, if you think its Knight Rider-style yoke steering wheel is easy to use, try driving KITT sometime. It actually sucks. And how about pedestrian safety standards?
If you don’t believe me, an idiot on the internet, ask our friend and contributor Bozi Tatarevic, a smart person on the internet:
I'm still trying to believe all of this but looking at the front end and some of the angles on the side I wonder if Tesla has considered pedestrian and cyclist safety at all? pic.twitter.com/vNggM4Z95o
— Bozi Tatarevic (@BoziTatarevic) November 22, 2019
And that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg here, as far as regulations go. So while Musk may be reluctant to admit it, the Cybertruck is going to need plenty of changes before it goes to market—just like any concept car.
Don’t Believe The Price Hype
When it comes to specs, I get the horsepower, the towing and hauling specs and maybe even the aggressive zero to 60 mph times. Electric power will make trucks amazing in new and unique ways. But in typical Tesla fashion, I have a very hard time believing the Cybertruck will really start at $US39,900 ($58,813) for the base, rear-wheel drive single-motor version.
Remember the $US35,000 ($51,590) Tesla Model 3? The price that was bandied about for years to drum up interest in a truly affordable electric people’s car? Now remember how that base car was taken “off the menu” and it basically doesn’t exist? I fully expect years of regular Tesla pricing games on the Cybertruck as well, to say nothing of inevitable delays. I’m still waiting on the new Roadster and that “debuted” two years ago.
Half the time, Tesla’s new product debuts feel like investor cash grabs, rather than actual product previews. This was no different. I’ve seen this movie before and I know how it ends. Expect most of these to be between $US60,000 ($88,440) and $US80,000 ($117,920), if not more.
Will Truck Buyers Really Go For It?
I’m from Texas. It’s a place where a Tacoma is a “subcompact car” and an F-250 King Ranch Edition is a “family sedan.” Truck buyers are a very particular set with very particular needs and tastes, and they tend to skew more conservative (in terms of general buying tastes, not politics, though that may also be true to some degree) than shoppers in other segments.
The Cybertruck’s looks are as outlandish as any vehicle I’ve ever seen. So it’s hard to see this giant triangle thing, that comes in DeLorean silver only, luring buyers away from their Fords and Chevys the way the Model 3 stole people from BMW and Mercedes. Yes, even if it is as utilitarian as I mentioned earlier. In fact, you could argue that’s the Model 3’s greatest strength—its ability to be a better and more modern 3 Series than the actual 3 Series.
The Cybertruck is a wholly different animal. It may be too out there for most truck buyers to really warm up to. Going back to Texas for a moment, I could see this being a hit among startup bros in Austin—but people in the DFW or the Rio Grande Valley or the suburbs of Houston who need an actual truck? Hell no.
No, the Cybertruck feels like it’s for the fans. The Musk Bros. Elon’s army. The Tesla faithful. It feels like a truck for the cult, not for truck buyers.
As I’ve said many times before, I think the pickup truck segment is the next great frontier for EVs. We’ve seen electric compacts and sport sedans and crossovers. Whoever can crack the EV truck code first in a substantial way will be poised for sales success. Maybe it’ll be Ford, working on an electric F-150; maybe it’ll be General Motors instead. Or maybe it’ll be a startup like Rivian or Bollinger.
But the Cybertruck feels too wild to be a real mass-seller. Maybe it could if it had more traditional truck-like proportions, I don’t know. But it’s very difficult for me to see average people actually cross-shopping this against a Ram or whatever.
Of course, none of this matters if Tesla can’t pull it off. Musk has overpromised and underdelivered many times before, but his company still managed a better year in 2019 than most of the ones it’s had. At this point, it’s foolish to count Tesla out or assume its collapse is inevitable. The electric automaker is still in the game, against all odds, and it’s pushing most other car companies along with it. But if Tesla really wants to fight the F-150, it’s hard to see how this will do it.
I can’t find it in me to hate the Cybertruck, even if I don’t especially like looking at it. But I think it’s healthy to manage expectations here.