The Tesla Cybertruck was introduced to shock and awe, disgust and obsession, in late 2019. It was supposed to be delivered to customers starting in 2021, but as we all know, it’s not on the market yet. The explanation has been simple — there weren’t enough batteries for existing models to sell out (the Model Y and Model 3), so what’s the point in producing a new model. However, there may be other reasons as well, and some news out this week about the Cybertruck alpha implies that there may be more to it than all that.
As you may recall, a lot of Tesla documents were leaked in Germany to the major news outlet Handelsblatt. As part of those documents, it was apparently revealed that the Cybertruck alpha was full of issues, issues concerning the suspension, braking, handling, body sealing, noise levels, and more. Naturally, there are a couple of potential explanations at play here. One is that the vehicle was simply in a very early stage of development and it was not considered important to make sure these things were refined — and there’s perhaps nothing at all to be concerned about in that case. Another explanation is that there are critical problems with Cybertruck design and development, and those may not be resolved yet and may not be resolved soon. Frankly, we don’t know which of these two explanations is valid — or if there’s perhaps a middle explanation that involves a bit of both.
A veteran automotive engineer who looked through the report on these issues noted that Tesla should be able to address them all — it’s got the money to pour into getting the Cybertruck right. However, “my first reaction is I am astounded. These are classic mechanical automotive engineering challenges that you have in pretty much any vehicle. I’m blown away that they would be struggling so much with the basics.”
While some are concerned, or feign concern, that the Cybertruck alpha is “leaky, noisy, and has poor handling and braking,” as Wired reports; former Nissan COO and Aston Martin Lagonda CEO Andy Palmer notes, “It’s an alpha-stage vehicle, so it’s not surprising that it’s some way off its targets.” However, he also says that it’s abnormal to put that scathing of an assessment into a written report, due to the potential of it being leaked … as it was. “You’d be giving the engineers that wrote this stuff a good bollocking. You don’t normally write this down.”
Also, while the general idea is that all these issues can get worked out before the production vehicle arrives, there is concern that it’s not so straightforward. The problems with seals can present issues keeping out rain, wind, and noise; and the report states “there are a number of areas that we do not have a clear path to sealing.” That’s not good. “Data in the report shows that the alpha version was significantly noisier than engineers had projected based on their designs,” Wired states, “and that testers had identified 21 potential noise leaks in the body of the vehicle.
There are also concerns about braking, torsional stiffness, and other things. “The brake performance seems serious. I’m surprised they’re not further forward,” Palmer says. “So to be only on prototype parts at this stage is quite late.”
The automotive production industry has evolved to be more effective and more efficient for more than a century, with millions of new vehicles a year getting created from more and more refined manufacturing processes. The Cybertruck can benefit from many of those too, but there’s no denying that it does a lot differently and there may be more challenges in design and production than we presume off the bat.
We’ll see. The Cybertruck is supposed to truly be in production in 2024. We don’t have too long to wait in order to see how a production version of the Cybertruck actually turns out and whether any of these early issues remain issues or it’s all just another case of overhyped FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).
One thing we know is that the alpha version is not the final version. Much gets done between the alpha version of a new model being produced and the first consumer versions being produced. I wouldn’t panic about Cybertruck issues at this point, but I do think it’s worth making this note in case it’s a topic to come back to in a year or two.
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