The goal of this series is to examine current topics being written about Tesla [TSLA] that appear to be stirring up “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” (or FUD). The plan is to try to provide reasonable analysis about the validity of the claims. I generally do not link to the articles that “inspire” me to write this, as I do not wish to reward analysis I feel is poor with increased traffic. However, I will freely admit that my analysis may contain incorrect assumptions, and will do my best to acknowledge them in future articles.
The Cybertruck rolled out, looking like nothing else ever seen. Seemingly before the event ended, detractors were stating it couldn’t be built without extreme modifications. Can it?
Is It Legal?
I happen to be friends with an engineer who has previously worked in the automotive industry and currently works in aerospace (not SpaceX), and I was curious about the statements that the Cybertruck in it’s current configuration wasn’t legal, so I reached out to him to see what he thought.
Before I share the answers, I realize this isn’t ideal as he also did not wish for his name to be used, so we end up with a writer with a pseudonym describing a conversation with an unnamed engineer. Not ideal, but you can further research these questions if you wish based on this information.
Can the Cybertruck have a single-strip headlight? According to an engineer I communicated with, it can! The pattern that the light makes is regulated, but how you get there is not. So long as it illuminates the road properly, it’s fine. Having two headlights has been a standard due to design language and production costs. He pointed me to this Wikipedia article that describes the rules and regulations and noted it would be more difficult to achieve the standards with the strip light, but so long as it isn’t on the hood, it is possible to use headlights like this.
In the case of the Cybertruck, due to difficulty in forming the material, he said that the lack of body stamping may offset the higher production costs, so it makes more sense.
The taillights for the Cybertruck would meet regulations with minor tweaks. The regulations indicate that brake lights need to be on a static surface and be at least a certain size. Therefore, the red brake light strip on the tailgate wouldn’t work.
However, the Cybertruck has taillights on the edge of the bed. He said that if the tailgate were made to have small gaps or a clear window over where the taillights were, this would probably satisfy the static surface requirement.
The bigger issue is size. He believes those lights aren’t currently large enough, but he explained that they don’t have to be too large. As an example, he cited the newer Ford Mustang brake lights, where one of the three segments is enough to meet the requirement. He expected the strip area on the tailgate to be slightly enlarged, which would meet the requirement.
He said that bumper height regulations for trucks vary, so it’s difficult to know exactly if the bumper of the Cybertruck is at the correct height without knowing the rest of the details about it. He said it did appear high, but you could solve that by shipping the Cybertruck with smaller wheels.
He added that pedestrian safety rules would have to be met with the bumper and it is impossible to know from photos if it does, but he believes that it may need to be slightly enlarged to do so. Although, that wouldn’t be a major modification.
Currently, it is a legal requirement to have side mirrors in the United States. Some parts of Europe now allows cameras instead. He does not expect this regulation to change in the US in time for the release, but companies regularly push regulators to approve their designs without side mirrors, and he noted that the Tesla Semi and Roadster were also revealed without side mirrors. He is a proponent of removing side mirrors, and he noted it makes sense Tesla is a proponent of this too since it can dramatically improve range. It would have been surprising if Tesla had started with side mirrors on.
I was surprised when he compared the Cybertruck to the Pontiac Fiero, a sports car that had mostly plastic panels. He explained that, in both cases, the chassis would need to do the work of distributing the forces in a crash, and the panels would more or less just need to move out of the way. Since the Cybertruck’s panels are more durable, he said it would be an interesting design challenge, but that there were solutions that could be implemented to make it work.
He also noted that trucks do not need to meet the same crash regulations as cars, so that changes how much they need to do with this.
Other Potential Issues
He noted that the wheels on the prototype in some photos appear to stick out the side of the vehicle, which isn’t legal, but is an easy fix.
Turn signals need to illuminate a certain size and area (similar to taillights) but could work within the existing design, so long as the front turn signals did not shut off the headlamps.
Windshield wipers were not visible on the prototype, but the only real requirements is that vehicles need two of them. A simple solution could be that the hood raises slightly to produce the blades when it is raining, so long as the amount the hood opens does not visually impair the driver’s view of the road.
I would feel like this wasn’t complete if I didn’t add that he isn’t a huge fan of the design, but his questions have more to do with how they will produce it. For instance, if a car panel was bent and is half a degree out of spec, it can be addressed at different steps throughout production to fix it. The Cybertruck wouldn’t have this benefit. His belief is that no one else has done a radical design like this due to how extremely precise production needs to be.
He does believe it can done, but that this will be a large engineering challenge.
After this long conversation, I believe that while the Cybertruck is a prototype, it is closer to production ready than the detractors would have you believe. The larger challenge will be ensuring that production is made precise enough to manufacture the truck.
I am a Tesla shareholder who has purchased shares within the preceding 12 months. Research I do for articles, including this article, may compel me to increase or decrease stock positions. However, I will not do so within 48 hours after any article in which I discuss matters that I feel may materially affect stock price is published. I do not believe that my voice could or should influence stock price by itself, and I strongly caution anyone against using my work as your sole data point to choose to invest or divest in any company. My articles are my opinion, which was formulated using research based on publicly available data. However, my research or conclusions may be incorrect.