Watching the livestream of Tesla’s unveiling of the new Cybertruck in Los Angeles last Thursday evening, it was hard not to keep wondering - from the moment the vehicle rolled on to the stage, until the moment Elon Musk walked off following his presentation - whether or not Musk was punking the entire world.
So outlandish is Tesla’s new vehicle, that judging by social media comments, gnawing away in the back of many people’s minds during the reveal was the refrain, ”is this a joke?” At any moment it seemed plausible Musk would say, “just kidding” and the real Cybertruck would fall from the sky or something.
But no, it turns out it was not a joke. The vehicle you see pictured here is indeed the long awaited pickup truck that Tesla has been promising. Pre-launch, artists impressions had suggested we should expect an appearance of a familiar Tesla-styled front end with a flatbed grafted onto the rear, but such images had clearly led everyone astray. In reality, the Cybertruck has completely blown up the Tesla design language - and indeed forces us to rethink the very concept of what a pickup truck actually is.
Spending some time to let the visual onslaught marinate a bit though, perhaps allows the mind to shift a little from, “what the hell is that?” to something rather more accommodating.
It’s never been Tesla’s mode of operation to be bound by convention. The company’s tenacity to bring a fledgling EV car company building a limited production two seater roadster a little over a decade ago, to what is now a mass production automaker today, has not occurred by following a conservative playbook. And so, because we expect a pickup truck to look a certain way, in line with every pickup truck ever, it does not mean to say a superior utility vehicle can’t be conceived in an entirely different package.
Love it or hate it, the statistics are impressive.
The Tesla Cybertruck is, of course, fully electric. It will come in three variants, at three price points. The base model comes with a single motor rear wheel drivetrain and starts at $39,900, will travel 250 plus miles per charge and Tesla says it can go from zero to 60 mph in less than 6.5 seconds. This is a very respectable entry level spec-sheet at a real-world price, and not out of whack in the utility truck market segment.
Up one notch, a $49,900 higher performing dual motor version sits in between the base model and the $69,900 top-of-the-range tri-motor, all-wheel drive flagship Cybertruck. Here’s where the real action is - zero to 60 mph in an astoundingly rapid 2.9 seconds, while achieving over 500 miles on a single charge. Range anxiety begone!
Musk asserts the Cybertruck melds Porsche 911 performance with the utility of a Ford F150 and though some will, without question, buy this for whatever image it portrays, this vehicle is not positioned merely as a styling exercise. It’s designed to be a proper workhorse.
In the truck segment, a performance figure even more important than horsepower and acceleration, is towing capacity. Here too the Cybertruck steps up.
The base model is capable of towing a very respectable 7,500 pounds, which is pretty much comparable with Ford’s base model F150 - not only America’s best selling pickup, but best selling vehicle outright. The top specification tri-motor Cybertruck, though, can tow an astounding 14,000 pounds, which is to say 800 pounds more than the F150’s most capable version, the F150 Raptor.
And yes, $69,900 is pricey, but considering the F150 Raptor itself starts at over $54,000 it’s not a stretch to make a compelling economic case. After all, since the F150 gets just 18 miles per gallon on the highway, over the life of the vehicle, the electric Cybertruck quickly closes down the gap in the lifetime cost of vehicle ownership in fuel savings alone.
Tesla is challenging convention with the materials they are using, too, seemingly to impress upon prospective buyers that the Cybertruck is indestructible. The ultra-hard stainless steel exoskeleton was demonstrated during the reveal to be impervious to denting when hit with a sledgehammer. A couple of big whacks on stage rendered no damage. Video footage also showed body panels can resist a 9 mm bullet impact. Here Musk quipped it was redefining “tough” - a dig, no doubt, at the F150’s “Built Ford Tough” tagline.
It must be said, however, running contrary to this narrative, there was one key fail on stage - toughness wise. As for the armour glass windows tested in front of the audience and supposedly able to withstand a steel ball bearing being thrown at them somewhat embarrassingly, failed twice to actually resist shattering - a bit of an “oops” moment! Musk laughed it off, and in any case, there’s time to fix this before production starts in 2021.
Still, beyond these demonstrations of brute force, potential buyers may place more importance on some of Tesla’s other areas of focus. One practical feature is the incorporation of self leveling suspension to counter cargo weight and towing sag. Cybertruck also comes equipped with a liftgate that unfolds all the way down to the ground, thereby acting as a useful ramp.
Creature comforts prevail, too. On the inside, there’s room for six people to travel in the roomy cabin - 3 per row - while the now familiar central tablet-like control screen also adorns the Cybertruck’s dash. Tesla’s driver assist technology is of course standard, and a $7,000 optional extra self-driving capability is promised as well.
Nevertheless, overwhelming all of these practical details is the question as to whether Tesla will be able to sell this thing, looking like this? Though Elon Musk pitched the Cybertruck against the capabilities of the Ford F150, an equally, if not more relevant, comparison should be drawn with the much anticipated $69,000 Rivian electric truck - which, when it is released, will come with quad motors, put up similar performance figures - and still look like a pickup truck.
It’s hard to predict which of these electric trucks the market will prefer; Tesla has a lot of devotees and Rivian to date is unproven, but will people embrace Cybertruck’s radical design? Since we’re two years away from it beginning to roll off production lines, it’s not impossible to imagine that while the overall design won’t deviate drastically to what we’re seeing here, it may however soften somewhat, (perhaps to meet regulations for crash performance or pedestrian safety) and look a bit less like an armored vehicle. Though perhaps by then, in any case, our eyes will have adjusted to find this design concept perfectly acceptable, and see conventionally styled pickups as old hat. \
And if that’s the case, Tesla may have just played its next move in the chess game. While established manufacturers are right now bringing out some great EVs; vehicles which derive inspiration in both form and function from Tesla like the Ford Mach-E we reported on recently, Tesla meanwhile might just be saying - we’ve already moved on over here now - keeping one step ahead in the EV game!
Image credit: Tesla
Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.