During a recent conference call, Elon Musk dropped a bomb, and not one that was good for the company. In it, he explains that the production ramp for Cybertruck isn’t going well, even almost four years after the announcement. Why? Because he didn’t want to make a “distinction without a difference” product for Tesla’s first truck, and instead wanted to make something “radical and innovative” and “special.” It’s apparently proving to be a lot harder than the Model X or Model 3/Y ramps were.
“We dug our own grave with Cybertruck,” Musk said at one point. Deliveries are still going to begin soon, but only at very low volumes. He doesn’t anticipate reaching full production volume until sometime in 2025.
I know Tesla superfans and Stans think Cybertruck is worth the wait, but I want to invite everyone to go with me on a journey to an alternate universe where Tesla made a different call back in 2019.
Sadly, I don’t have a multiversal portal on hand, so we can’t literally jump into another path on the wave function. My theory is that matter and energy cannot cross into other timelines, only perhaps information and consciousness, but that’s another issue. So, instead of taking a literal trip (or one involving drugs), I’m going to do the next best thing — look for things in our timeline that look like they came from another one.
Few understand this, but a Tesla truck has already been driving around in our timeline for four years. Here’s a video about the truck and some of its more recent adventures:
Back in 2019, while Tesla was working on a radical stainless steel truck, Simone Giertz was taking a completely different approach to building a Tesla pickup truck. She started with a Model 3, cut out most of the back seat area, and built the rear of the vehicle into a truck bed. The stock body wasn’t rigid enough to work without the whole roof, so her team instead built a cargo rack to bear the load and give more room for things.
Some aspects of the truck weren’t completed until recently, but considering that a few people with tools in a garage converted the Model 3 into an Australian-style ute, I’d say they did a pretty decent job.
But, if Tesla had decided to take this route in 2018–2019, the company certainly could have come up with something even better. Instead of needing a cargo/ladder rack, Tesla’s engineers could have beefed up the structure to keep a completely open top. They could have done a mild redesign on the rear bumper to allow for a tailgate, too. Tesla also could have built a shorter bed (and perhaps a longer overall body) to allow for a four-door pickup.
The overall result would be about as different as a Model 3 is from a Model Y, despite both being on basically the same platform. And, if done right, the result would look something like the Hyundai Santa Cruz, a vehicle that’s very similar to a Hyundai crossover, but with a bed instead of a trunk.
A vehicle like the Model Y, but with a truck bed instead of an almost useless third row, would be selling like hotcakes right now. It would have sold like hotcakes, but at record prices, in 2022. It would have sold like hotcakes in 2021 and a good chunk of 2020, too. Some of the sales would have probably cannibalized Model Y sales, but that wouldn’t have mattered because most of the development money was already spent on the 3 and Y.
But, it definitely would have resulted in sales happening that Tesla didn’t end up getting. Instead of buying a Tesla, many EV buyers decided to go with other trucks that beat Tesla’s Cybertruck to market. The Rivian R1S, the Ford F-150 Lightning, and the Hummer EV are all great examples, and the list is growing.
I know that many people simply skipped buying an EV altogether because a small pickup like this wasn’t available. Look at the Ford Maverick (available as straight gas or hybrid) and you’ll see a vehicle that’s pretty similar to the Santa Cruz pickup pictured above. I don’t know how many potential EV buyers decided a Maverick was a better choice because there weren’t any cheaper EVs with a bed, but I know I’ve seen quite a few. I almost did this myself before deciding to add a hitch to a Bolt EUV instead.
But, instead of building a ute on the 3/Y platform, I remember hearing that Truckla was banned from attending Tesla events. (Elon probably didn’t want people to think about the different approach that the company could have taken when he was about to reveal the Cybertruck in LA around the time of the LA Auto Show.)
Elon Musk wanted something a lot more “special” than another crossover-based truck. He was obsessed with stainless steel at the time, as SpaceX had recently abandoned a composite version of Starship in favor of using water tower technology to build the body of the rocket Elon wanted to use to make life multiplanetary, save the light of consciousness, etc. So, he likely thought that using stainless steel was an order of magnitude better than building on the 3/Y platform.
But, while we’re talking about Elon’s hackneyed platitudes, let’s talk about “the mission.” The mission of Tesla isn’t to build things that impress Elon and make the fanboys happy. The mission is to “accelerate the transition to clean energy,” or something like that. Penetrating the pickup market with a more affordable EV truck would have not only made life hard for Rivian and Ford’s efforts, but it probably would have resulted in the Maverick being an EV instead of a hybrid. It certainly would have sold a lot of copies of itself, too.
I’m not saying that Tesla shouldn’t have done the Cybertruck. Trying new and interesting things is a good way to shake the industry up and change it. But, Cybertruck would have been better as Tesla’s second truck or third truck instead of its first. The company not only reduced pressure on other automakers by taking so long to build something “special,” but Tesla also missed out on a lot of sales the company could have used to further dominate the EV market and even the much larger pickup market.
Like Simone in her video above, I was also a big fan of the company until 2019, and seeing them make such a questionable choice was a real turning point. Now, four years later, those of us who haven’t let Cybertruck grow on us (like a fungus) have been proven right. But I’m not a Tesla investor. If I owned a bunch of shares, I’d be pretty mad watching them gamble my retirement on some weird “special” science project instead of making more profits and scoring serious points for “the mission.”
Featured image by Kyle Field.
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