I really didn’t know what to think of the Cybertruck when it was revealed, and you can even follow that in my writing. At the conclusion of the reveal liveblog, I said, “It won’t win over a huge segment of the pickup truck drivers, but I can definitely see this selling well for the company,” referring to the fact that it ticked the boxes I wanted it to tick for a contractor truck.
However, an hour or so later when I published the Cybertruck press photos and specs, I was already hedging my bets: “[Musk] said himself that he wasn’t sure how well it would sell, and I appreciate that concern.” Later: “My guess is that Tesla expects to sell only around 100,000 of these a year, but we’ll see.”
I was excited about the Cybertruck not because of the truck itself, but because if Tesla could turn a profit on $39,900 some extreme cost reductions or breakthroughs in technology had to have been found.
I spent Friday researching what I feel is the most likely component for either of the above — the batteries — updating how I felt that impacted the company and feeling really positive about it. I was pretty comfortable in my conclusion that the Cybertruck didn’t need to be a hit, it might just be a low-risk statement that the company was at the point it could take risks because it’s so far ahead of everyone else. Privately, I anticipated about 50,000 sales per year, and maybe 50,000 pre-orders before they started.
I read rumors that pre-order numbers may be 200,000, but dismissed them. Often, internet companies build in randomly generated number skips for orders to disguise how well they are doing. 200,000 sequential orders could very easily be 100,000, but it was far more likely that it would actually be 50,000, 40,000, or even 20,000. My bet was 20,000.
And then Musk dropped this bombshell:
146k Cybertruck orders so far, with 42% choosing dual, 41% tri & 17% single motor
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 23, 2019
Model 3 received 276,000 pre-orders in the first two day and addressed a pent up demand by Tesla followers who had wanted to get in on the company’s electric cars but couldn’t afford a Model S or X. Orders were taken worldwide, and people lined up at Tesla stores to place them.
For the Cybertruck to already have 146,000 pre-orders — when it is a product that will sell almost exclusively to the US market, has an extremely polarizing design, and other Tesla products already exist at this price point — is … what?!? This is more impressive to me than the Model 3 number.
I went on a mission to try to understand what happened. My estimate was off by a major factor. I combed my social media feeds, message boards online, and everywhere else I could. Where were these Cybertruck orders coming from?
Who Likes the Cybertruck?
My social media was filled with memes of the Cybertruck from people who had never mentioned Tesla before, often posted to large groups that had nothing to do with vehicles. Broken windows and video game comparisons seemed to dominate. An engineer I know sketched up a few tiny tweaks he thought it needed. It was everywhere.
That doesn’t mean it’s a success. There are lots of examples of things people don’t end up liking that they share because they are so ridiculous.
Before I continue, I feel the need to point out that I’m generally considered a Millennial, but I’m really close to Gen Z. My social media feeds are full of diverse groups and hobbies that put me in touch with a lot of diverse people. There are people who don’t live up to the stereotypes of their generations, and many who do.
As I browsed these sources, I started noticing a trend. In the groups where I’m one of the youngest, the consensus was the Cybertruck is the stupidest thing, Tesla is dead, and no one will buy one.
In the groups where I am one of the oldest, the consensus seems to be the opposite.
Both groups would start with something funny about the Cybertruck. One particular post that caught my eye was a group I’m part of where someone astutely noted the resemblance to the Atari Jaguar’s Club Drive. (Hey, I just wrote about Atari here!)
This post was followed by over 25 responses, with every single one noting they loved the Cybertruck. Four reported pre-ordering. Four more were thinking about it. It clicked.
I looked up pickup truck owner demographics. Found this:
- Ford F150 — 84% male / 16% female, average age 55.
- Chevrolet Silverado — 84% male / 16% female, average age 54.
- Ram 1500 — 81% male / 19% female, average age 50.
- Toyota Tundra — 83% male / 17% female, average age 54.
Why the Cybertruck Works
For all the talk about buyers looking for larger vehicles, I’ve mentioned in other articles I think it’s a dangerous belief for the industry.
Why? Here’s a list from this year of the ten most popular cars for Millennials. Of the top 10, eight are sedans, including the Ford Focus. Millennials also care about the environment more. And it may turn out tastes don’t change. After Ford announced it was abandoning sedans last year, look what Cox Automotive found:
“Of the Ford sedan owners in Cox’s survey, only 10 percent said they’d swap their car for a Ford SUV or crossover at trade-in time. Five percent said they’d purchase a Mustang, while only 3 percent said they’d get behind the wheel of a truck. The majority of sedan owners surveyed said they opposed Ford’s decision to ditch all but one of its passenger cars.”
Going even a step further, that “OK boomer” meme that seems to anger those 55 and older? That’s the same generation buying traditional trucks, and seemingly the one most likely to dismiss the Cybertruck.
If you’re a younger person looking for a truck, the Cybertruck works for so many reasons:
First, not just does it look different than the full-sized trucks that the older crowd tends to get, but it seems to actively trigger them.
Second, related, if you’re a younger person who wants the function of a truck, you don’t want what the older generations want, you want something of your own.
Third, Tesla cares about the environment. Ford eliminated its smaller vehicle offerings. GM and Toyota joined Trump’s administration to argue for less restrictive mileage rules.
Fourth, the specs. The Tesla Cybertruck in dual motor trim hauls more, tows more, has more ground clearance, has more torque, and has better technology than the Ford Raptor. And it’s cheaper.
Finally, I’m adding technology again. It’s a step change up above any other manufacturer, and learning that is not scary, it’s exciting.
My 17 y/o son told me today that #cybertruck will be driven by so many athletes, YouTubers and musicians it’ll instantly become THE vehicle of desire. Wrapped in every color for sure. Think Hummer or Escalade with the 22s back in the day. #tesla pic.twitter.com/ZxxKvh8qCw
— “Dan” on Clubhouse (@spotted_model) November 24, 2019
The Cybertruck’s Moment
With the explosion of climate activism, the “OK boomer” meme taking off, and automakers appearing to work directly against the tastes of Millennials, this may be the perfect moment for such a radical departure.
I want to highlight that this does not apply to all people who fall within these generations. A handful of older people were excitedly sharing they were getting one. A number of younger people hated it. In general, though, it seems to hold true.
Businesses need different products for different customers. Different things appeal to my parents, me, and my kids. The Cybertruck might even be more appealing to those who are younger. My eldest son saw a photo of the Cybertruck and declared it the “sickest thing ever.” (This is high praise.) I showed it to a 14 year old family friend who immediately said it was the coolest looking truck she’d ever seen.
Maybe Tesla realized luring an average 55 year old Ford F-150 buyer was going to be near impossible. I found tons of examples of people older than me sharing FUD articles from 5 or more years ago about how long electric cars take to charge (8 hours! No, TWO DAYS!) and how few chargers there are (there are NO Superchargers in Nebraska, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kentucky!). None of that is remotely true today, but the few people attempting to share more up-to-date information were dismissed. Gas works, get back to me when you can drive 900 miles without a charge and charge up in five minutes.
Perhaps the Cybertruck is a statement that new and clean technology will win, and change is good. The future is sick of your grandpa’s truck. They want this.
In fact, I’m starting to believe the Cybertruck could sell in similar quantities to the Model 3. If that happens, it’s more disruptive than anyone imagined. I’ll dive into this soon in my Tesla Deathwatch series, because there will be a lot of carnage.
Legacy auto may have gone to bed Thursday night relieved at what it saw at the Tesla Cybertruck unveiling. These pre-order numbers should give them an extremely rude awakening.
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