Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to the stage late on Thursday to reprise a familiar role: pitching a future vehicle to a throng of adoring fans. This time, it’s the “Cybertruck” — his name for Tesla’s new electric pickup truck.
The angular vehicle, with a stainless-steel skin, starts at US$39 900 and will come in three variants, Musk told a packed audience in Hawthorne, California. Customers can order the truck with just a $100 deposit, though production “nears in late 2021”, Tesla said on its website.
After a Blade Runner-inspired introduction, Musk had Tesla’s long-time chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen, smash the truck’s steel exterior with a sledgehammer, showing that it did not dent.
The second demonstration, of “Tesla armour glass”, was the real show stopper: Von Holzhausen unintentionally shattered two windows with a metallic ball, causing Musk to say, “Oh my f***ing god”. Given how product launches are usually scripted and rehearsed, the broken windows were the evening’s big surprise.
The evening began with a slideshow of standard pickup trucks throughout the years, and Musk’s vow to make something different that runs on sustainable energy.
“You want a truck that’s really tough, not fake tough,” Musk said, in what seemed to be a veiled swipe at Ford’s slogan. “A truck you can take a sledgehammer to that doesn’t dent.”
Tesla fans, who packed the audience, liked what they saw.
“It’s like something out of a movie set,” said Elizabeth Lepek of Marina del Rey, California, a current Tesla Model X owner who placed a $100 deposit for the Cybertruck. “It’s so futuristic. I like the design of it. There’s nothing quite like it on the road.”
But traditional truck buyers are a tougher audience and less likely to be impressed by Silicon Valley sizzle.
“It misses the core truck buyer,” said Gene Munster, a managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures. “A contractor is not going to show up to a work site in this truck. That said, Tesla will still sell some of them.”
Although it will take a long time before the Cybertruck hits streets, that’s something Tesla customers are used to. Musk unveiled a Semi truck two years ago, but that vehicle has yet to enter volume production.
The lucrative full-size pickup market in the US is dominated by the Detroit 3: Ford’s F-150, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Ram 1500 and General Motors’ Chevy Silverado. Japanese automakers have spent two decades and billions of dollars to get in on the gravy train, but US brands still control almost 92% of the half-ton segment, according to IHS Markit.
“The design will be questioned, but over time the specs will help win over pickup loyalists,” said analyst Ben Kallo of Robert W Baird. “But the volumes are expected to be low, and the Model 3 and Model Y continue to be the focus.” — Reported by Dana Hull and Ed Ludlow, with assistance from Thuy Ong, Natnicha Chuwiruch and Derek Wallbank, (c) 2019 Bloomberg LP