In a previous article, I explained the real issue with Cybertruck that people (barely) missed when criticizing its looks. I’d recommend reading the whole thing, but it all boils down to two things: modularity and economy of scale.
When an automaker designs and builds a vehicle, there are two kinds of costs: those that are one-time expenses, and those that repeat for every copy of the vehicle produced. Repeating expenses are things like materials and assembly labor. One-time expenses are things like the initial design of the vehicle and getting the factory ready to build it.
To reduce costs, it’s important to be able to spread the one-time costs over as many vehicles as possible. If you spend millions designing a vehicle, but only make 10 of them, the design cost per unit would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you spend millions of dollars designing a car that gets copied a million times, you only spend a few dollars per vehicle. This helps immensely when it comes to getting prices down.
Another related factor is economy of scale. The more bulk you buy materials, parts, and sometimes even labor in, the better deals you can get. Not only is this like buying things at Sam’s Club instead of Walmart, but you also find yourself in a much better bargaining position when you’re buying more.
Ideally, you’d get the best of both of these by selling everybody the same car, right? Sure, but everybody doesn’t want the same car. Perhaps more importantly, needs vary as well. And that’s the real challenge: to minimize costs you have to sell one vehicle to as many people with different needs as possible.
One Solution: Modular Designs
One great point in Cybertruck’s favor is that it’s designed to be built and assembled as cheaply as possible. Simplicity is the key to that, but no matter how much you reduce the repeating costs of a vehicle, you’re going to reach a point where a fixed design has found as many buyers as it can find without being physically different to accommodate more wants and needs.
If you have to redesign the vehicle from scratch and retool an entire factory every time you create a new variant of a design, you aren’t getting the advantage of spreading one design out over more units. Unibody and “stressed skin” designs are built in one piece, and can’t be redesigned in piecemeal fashion.
That’s why today’s pickups are body-on-frame. Having an endoskeleton instead of an exoskeleton isn’t a “legacy” design — it exists for very important economic reasons.
With a body-on-frame truck, you can completely change the design of one part while leaving the rest of the vehicle alone. For example, you can remove the cab and bed and replace it with the body of an SUV while leaving the frame, suspension, fuel system, and drive systems completely alone. The factory that puts those parts out now gets to build more units without a redesign.
Not all truck buyers want a standard bed, but that doesn’t matter. Automakers often sell trucks without a bed at all, so customizers and buyers can put flatbeds, cargo boxes, septic pump tanks, and even housing units (aka RVs).
By being able to sell 3/4 of a truck to that many more buyers, you get that much better economy of scale without suffering a redesign.
Atlis Is Building a Modular EV Truck
This is exactly what Atlis Motors is doing. Instead of building a unibody truck, the company started by building a frame that includes the battery and drivetrain. Attached to this is everything else needed to carry nearly any body on the top.
On top of that, Atlis designed a truck, but it’s far from the only thing that could go on top. Like “legacy” trucks, you’ll be able to get one without a bed to accommodate a variety of different work truck uses. Unlike today’s modular trucks, it will also be possible to buy one without a body at all and build what you want on it. Atlis will be able to build the basic underpinnings for vans, RVs, and so many other things.
I mean no offense to all of the many Cybertruck fans who read this article, but it does show that there are a variety of ways to meet the needs of different truck buyers. It’s a big market, and there is more than enough room for modular trucks like the Atlis and one-piece trucks like Tesla’s latest.
I’m with the Vulcans on this one. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations is a good thing.