There was great excitement at the Tesla Gigafactory in Austin this week as the first pre-production Cybertruck rolled off the assembly line. The long awaited battery electric pickup truck from Tesla reportedly has more than 1.5 million reservations pending, and now the big story will be how many of those turn into firm orders.
The Cybertruck is certainly unconventional. The pickup truck has almost god-like status in American culture. It has become more than a work truck with an engine, a steering wheel, a few pedals, and an interior that could be washed out with a garden hose.
The change came when some marketing type figured out an 8 foot load bed was not actually all that important to most buyers. By taking some of that space and using it to add a back seat and two more doors, the once lowly pickup truck became a family hauler that became as welcome at the country club as it was at a job site.
Is The Cybertruck The Shape Of Things To Come?
If you look at the pickup trucks available in America today, they all look pretty much the same, starting with a large grille sitting way up high, the better to intimidate other drivers. Behind it is a long hood with various bumps and slits connoting a big, beefy engine hidden underneath, one that can haul a horse trailer up the side of a mountain without breaking a sweat. Then there is a 5-passenger cab with every luxury convenience known to science, followed by a truncated cargo box that is usually covered with some device to protect it from the elements.
Whether you prefer a Ford, a Chevy, a GMC, a Ram, a Toyota, or a Nissan, you will be driving a vehicle that looks pretty much like every other pickup truck on the road. That is most definitely not the case with the Tesla Cybertruck.
For one thing, it is triangular in shape and looks sort of like a snowmobile trailer with four wheels. For another, the Cybertruck uses an exoskeleton made of stainless steel that is part of the frame as well as the exterior. The last production vehicle with a stainless steel exterior was the DeLorean.
Love it or hate it, the Cybertruck resembles nothing else on the road today. That’s exciting for many people who might be a bit weary of the “same old, same old” look of today’s pickup trucks. They may be ready for something completely new and different. Or not. Pickup truck owners are fiercely loyal to the mystique that surrounds their vehicles.
The design of the Cybertruck has been around for a while now, while we waited for Tesla to figure out how to build it. Since then, battery electric pickups from Ford, GM, and Ram have been introduced or will be along soon. Rivian has its own interpretation. None of them seems to have been influenced one whit by the look of the Cybertruck. If pickup truck manufacturers are worried that the market will suddenly swing toward triangular pickup trucks, they aren’t showing it — yet.
Tesla, as usual, has been tight lipped about the specs for the Cybertruck. It has said in the past it will be offered with a choice of two battery packs good for 350 or 500 miles of range. Initially, the word was that the Cybertruck would have an option for three motors — one for each rear wheel, with another powering the front wheels.
Then, Rivian came along with a four-motor truck and GM said the Hummer EV would also have a four-motor option. Tesla usually studiously ignores what the rest of the automotive world is doing. It is an innovator, not a follow-the-leader company. Nevertheless, it soon announced there would be a four-motor version of the Cybertruck as well.
Bearded Tesla, a so-called “influencer” on Twitter with almost 5000 followers, tweeted over the weekend, “Based on confidential conversations with 3 people, I believe we will be seeing only the 350 mile Cybertruck.” If that is true, the first Cybertrucks off the line later this year will be fitted with four motors and the smaller of the available battery packs. Prices have not yet been released by the company.
Range & Pickup Trucks
Online news source Notebook Check suggests that if the Cybertruck has an actual EPA range of 350 miles, that will be quite an accomplishment. Rivian found that while its four-motor pickup truck had dazzling performance, it exacted a penalty when it comes to range. Tesla, of course, is known for the efficiency of its powertrains and vehicle designs, so perhaps it knows something Rivian does not. We shall see. Notebook Check theorizes that if there is a version of the Cybertruck with 500 miles of range, it will have the larger battery pack and be fitted with a single motor.
Range, of course, is the defining metric for many prospective electric vehicle purchasers. More range is always better, right? You can never have enough. That perception may change over time as people come to realize there actually are EV chargers just about everywhere, thanks to the policies of the Biden administration — but, for now, range is the key metric in any decision about whether to buy an electric vehicle.
Pickup trucks are a particular challenge. Not only do most of them have the aerodynamics of a barn, but they also are expected to haul stuff and tow stuff on occasion, both of which have a significant impact on range. The Cybertruck at least has the advantage of being somewhat more aerodynamic than the typical American pickup truck, but it is still a large, heavy vehicle that will use a lot of electrons to move down the road. Throw a few dirt bikes in the load bed and/or a boat trailer behind and all the EPA estimates in the world will look ridiculously optimistic.
Rivian now offers its customers a dual-motor version of its pickup truck that is more than adequate, costs less, and has acceptable range. Perhaps Tesla will find a dual-motor Cybertruck may be what most of its customers prefer as well.
This is crunch time for Tesla and its Cybertruck. All the news reports about it focus on how long it has been since it was supposed to be in production and when it will finally arrive. That’s not the point. We have learned by now that Elon Musk’s predictions about when things will happen are wildly optimistic. Innovation doesn’t always arrive on schedule.
What is important is whether the “good ol’ boys” who buy the majority of pickup trucks today will drive a Cybertruck. It breaks the mold. It’s like Harley-Davidson deciding to build a motorcycle with an inline four-cylinder engine. There’s no reason why it couldn’t, but would the faithful buy one?
Tesla has totally disrupted the auto industry, which is now pumping billions into building electric sedans and SUVs. There is little question the Musk minions could build a pretty damn good pickup truck that conforms to the look people expect but has chosen to take a flyer on a most unusual looking vehicle that challenges conventional wisdom on every level.
Will it play in Peoria? We’ll know soon enough.
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