- FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
- Tesla revealed its long-awaited Cybertruck pickup on Thursday night near Los Angeles, and the reaction was a mixture of stunned dismay and concern that Elon Musk might have lost his mind.
- Elon Musk is the greatest car salesman who has ever lived, and Cybertruck is a flamboyant effort to create a Tesla “halo” vehicle that resets the company’s story and helps it to escape from its current design rut.
- As a pickup, the Cybertruck actually has staggeringly impressive specs.
- Rather than carping about how weird the Cybertruck looks, we should appreciate Tesla’s bold attempt to enliven electric-car design, which has gotten desperately dull.
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Tesla and Elon Musk are very good at overcompensating.
After a tepid reveal of its Model Y crossover earlier this year, Musk clearly decided that low-key wasn’t the way to go and attempted to blow some minds and reconquer some hearts with the company’s much-anticipated pickup truck.
The Cybertruck, however, invited an immediate deluge of negativity. At a splashy event near Los Angeles on Thursday night, Musk rolled out a freaky-deaky Frankensteining Tesla-fied interpretation of the Great American Pickup Truck that sent truck fans reeling and caused the Teslarati to question whether Musk might legitimately have lost it.
The Cybertruck’s design was the inciting incident. It’s an unholy mashup of DMC DeLorean, Lotus Esprit S1, Triumph TR7 (“the shape of things to come”), first-generation Honda Ridgeline, Chevy Avalanche/Cadillac EXT, Ark II (look it up), F-117 Stealth Fighter, and, regrettably, Pontiac Aztek. That whole concoction rendered in stainless steel is either an omen or some sort of sly reference to the DMC DeLorean, the last notable vehicle from a new car brand that used the material. It didn’t end well.
We know that Musk has at least feigned pot-smoking in the past, but the Cybertruck is so trippy that you have to wonder if he and Tesla design head Franz von Holzhausen – previously noted for elegant visual restraint – got their hands on something a little stronger and went on a vision quest together in the desert.
I was personally looking forward to something a bit more William Gibson-y, to live up to the cyberpunk pregame. Perhaps shimmering bronze Teslamino, or a Gigerian concatenation of flamboyant organic shapes and weird, threatening curves.
A Tesla-spun Ford F-150, I felt safe in assuming, wasn’t on the agenda.
The Cybertruck is just what Tesla needs: A “halo” vehicle
But Tesla went even farther than I anticipated. The company’s many supporters were shocked – that was the point. And in fact, what Tesla has delivered with the Cybertruck is exactly what it and the auto industry needs right now: a “halo” vehicle that’s also a mad, mad, mad concept car you might at some point in the future be able to buy (for a $100 deposit, you can claim a place in line).
The actual specs, as pickups go, are staggering. You can examine them here. I don’t expect Tesla to sell many of these to the ranchers and contractors of the world, but that’s not the strategy.
The point is that Tesla has been in a product rut, and the Model Y wasn’t going to change that. The company has signaled that it can’t or doesn’t want to redesign its aging Model S and Model X vehicles, and while the Model 3 is a lovely car, it’s essentially a normal four-door with an electric powertrain. The Model Y is more of the same. Following this aesthetic line would ultimately turn Tesla into the electric Toyota. All well and good if you’re selling 500,000 cars a year. But far too boring for Elon Musk.
For the record, Musk isn’t insane. He knows that even a Cybertruck with Porsche-like performance and F-150-beating towing capacity isn’t going to get pickup customers to defect from the Detroit Big Three or even think twice about the second-tier (Toyota and Nissan).
What he does know is that the USA is pickup-truck crazy, and therefore a wild sci-fi pickup from Tesla is just what the company needs to reset its narrative and be not a mass-market purveyor of transportation appliances but a bringing of excitement.
Tesla has restored the bold tradition of Dream Machines
For what it’s worth, it’s not like every other major carmaker on Earth hasn’t rolled out a daffy concept from time to time. Detroit once did this routinely, and it was one of the main reasons the public went to car shows. Dream Machines had tremendous advertising value. Have a gander at GM styling genius Harley Earl’s whackadoodle jet cars above.
The industry rarely built them, but they served a purpose, and often, assorted out-there design ideas made it into production cars. It’s to Tesla’s credit that their Dream (or Nightmare, take your pick) Truck is actually, sort of, for sale. Pickups are a lot of fun, and I don’t see any reason why buyers who might covet an electric Hummer wouldn’t consider Tesla’s post-apocalyptic, mission-to-Mars half-ton.
As electrification and autonomy have come to dominate the story around transportation, car design has fallen into a crisis. For the most part, electric-vehicle design has been incredibly dull, and every time a I see some automaker’s vision of a fully self-driving vehicle, I think of soulless “Star Trek” sofas on wheels. At least the Tesla Cybertruck strives to evoke some of the truly futuristic vehicle designs of the past, rather than turning the automobile into a four-wheeled robot with lots of strange lights and an instrument cluster best operated by Mr. Data.
I mean, look at the VW ID. Space Vizzion concept (above), revealed this week at the LA auto show, next to the Cybertruck. I know which vehicle I think is cooler.
In other words, although the Cybertruck might be cyberfreaky, it at least looks like something.
We’re talking about it, aren’t we? That, ladies and gentlemen and visitors from distant galaxies, is what Musk wanted.