A recent article at Forbes explored the sales potential of the Tesla Cybertruck. In the EV community, it’s almost heretical to question the future success of the vehicle. Tesla fans will point to the many pre-orders the Cybertruck has, and after all, everyone they’re friends with is going to buy at least one! So, if you’re questioning whether it’s going to be a big hit, you must be some anti-EV FUDster, a woke Elon hater, or someone with no sense of style.
However, the case isn’t quite closed on this as the company gears up to begin deliveries.
For one, the pre-order situation leaves a lot of questions unanswered. I remember over the years that many Tesla fans were saying that they had 10 pre-orders put in, often because they planned to operate a fleet of robotaxis. But, since 2019, the progress on Tesla’s FSD software hasn’t moved along as quickly as Elon Musk predicted. Will these people still be able to purchase ten Cybertrucks if they aren’t able to turn around and make money with them? Or will they take the risk on Turo?
There’s also the question of ability. Actual pricing isn’t out, so many people could be surprised to find out it’s not going to be sold for $40,000 and may not be in their price range anymore. I also know of at least a few Cybertruck enthusiasts who put in pre-orders for social media clout but have privately told me that they probably won’t be able to get a loan. One, in particular, was almost homeless and couldn’t afford to go to the dentist.
Sadly, there’s really no way to know what percentage of people with an order in will actually want or be able to pull the trigger.
It’s also worth noting that social media bubbles and echo chambers are real. Some of the most die-hard fans blocked me on social media for asking these questions, so it’s apparent that they don’t want anything to do with Cyberskeptics. If they’re only talking to fellow fans, do they really have their finger on the pulse of the future Cybertruck market? Probably not.
But this is all stuff I’ve been wondering, and don’t have real answers for. The Forbes article took a stab at some other issues I hadn’t thought of. One important issue is that committed environmentalists don’t like the Cybertruck. At all.
“The same poor thinking that infects the Hummer EV infects the Cybertruck,” Dan Becker, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Safe Climate Transport Campaign, told Forbes. “I’m not one of the people who’ve been cheering to see it. In fact, I’d be happy for it not to appear.”
Tesla’s entry into the pickup market with the Cybertruck is driven more by financial motives than environmental concerns. With pickups being the most profitable segment of the U.S. auto market, Tesla aims to tap into this market by selling at least 100,000 Cybertrucks annually. While offering an electric alternative to carbon-emitting trucks may garner some support from environmentalists, the large energy and material requirements for building the Cybertruck seem contradictory to Musk’s climate-conscious principles.
Additionally, the extraction of battery materials has its own environmental and human costs. Not only is the process impactful to the environment and climate change in particular, but the supply of battery cells is limited, meaning fewer people can get an EV if everyone gets a big pickup with a big pack.
While electric vehicles (EVs) produce less carbon pollution, they are not emission-free. Research suggests that heavy EVs generate more harmful tire dust compared to conventional vehicles. This tire dust, linked to declining salmon populations and considered an unregulated contributor to lung and heart disease, is a result of the added weight and the vehicle’s acceleration, braking, and cornering.
Another important question is how it will sell to today’s truck buyers.
Ford’s F-150, the overall truck leader, has beaten Tesla to the market in the pickup segment with the Lightning. GM is set to release its electric Chevy Silverado, while Stellantis plans to sell the RAM 1500 REV with an impressive range. For those seeking a less traditional option, Rivian offers the electric R1T, a sporty model perfect for camping and beach trips.
In contrast, the Cybertruck’s bold design may appeal to people who haven’t been truck buyers, but its success among existing truck buyers will ultimately depend on its performance as a pickup truck. Meeting the demands of cargo capacity, hauling, and towing is crucial for success in the North American market, especially in the commercial sector. Even then, the styling may turn off many traditional truck buyers — we don’t really know yet.
Some Tesla analysts predict strong sales of the Cybertruck, estimating up to 250,000 units by 2024. However, others question the market demand, citing the lower sales figures of the Rivian R1T. According to surveys, interest in the Cybertruck ranks low compared to interest in other electric pickups. Brand loyalty plays a significant role in the full-size pickup truck segment, making it challenging for newcomers like Tesla and Rivian to break into a market where people already have preferences.
Another question is whether they’ll be welcome in cities, especially in Europe.
The Cybertruck may not meet safety regulations for pedestrians and cyclists in the European Union, potentially limiting its sale without a revamp. Critics express concerns about the design’s impact on road safety and question the tradeoff between reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring safety. This unconventional vehicle is seen as part of the auto industry’s trend towards larger and more profitable pickups and SUVs. Some find the Cybertruck puzzling and unconventional, comparing it to the idiosyncrasies of its creator.
Putting This All Together
Ultimately, these issues all come together to a big question mark. Existing pre-orders are not a sure thing. Social media can’t tell us how many will actually buy. Many environmentalists hate the truck. Truck buyers aren’t as interested in it as they are in EVs from the brands they drive today. It might not even be available in Europe, and could be unwieldy in cities elsewhere.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Even a small fraction of 1.5 million pre-orders is still enough to support years of early production, making for a good seller. But plans to build and sell 250,000 of the trucks every year could run into obstacles once all the Stans with money buy one.
Featured image provided by Tesla.
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