Cardboard box or Bond-mobile? Tesla’s Cybertruck divides opinion

Tesla’s new electric pick-up truck, priced from $39,900, takes aim at major carmakers’ top-selling product segment.

Tesla cybertruck
Tesla's electric pick-up, the Cybertruck, was unveiled in Hawthorne, California, with an official slamming the side with a sledgehammer to prove it 'won't scratch and dent', though another test to show the resilience of its glass failed [Frederic J Brown/AFP via Getty Images]

United States-based Tesla Inc unveiled its first electric pick-up truck on Thursday, a futuristic-looking, angular armoured vehicle in gunmetal grey, as the California company takes aim at the heart of Detroit carmakers’ profits.

At a launch event in Los Angeles, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said the Cybertruck will have a starting price of $39,900 and production is expected to begin in late 2021.

Other versions will be priced at $49,900 and $69,900 with the most expensive offering a range of more than 804 kilometres (500 miles).

“We need sustainable energy now. If we don’t have a pick-up truck, we can’t solve it. The top three selling vehicles in America are pick-up trucks. To solve sustainable energy, we have to have a pick-up truck,” he said.

The truck, which Musk claimed “won’t scratch and dent”, was described as having windows made from armoured glass. But the glass cracked like a spider’s web when hit with a metal ball during a demonstration in Hawthorne, California on Thursday. Musk appeared surprised but noted that the glass had not completely broken.

“Maybe that was a little too hard,” Musk said after the ball cracked the glass. On a second attempt, another window broke.

Reactions on Twitter ranged from love to hate of the sharply-angled vehicle.

“I just watched tesla release the #cybertruck and honestly? My life feels complete,” wrote @aidan_tenud.

Others were less impressed.

“Its nice to see Elon Musk make a cardboard box car he drew in kindergarten,” @nateallensnyde tweeted. 

Musk earlier tweeted the design was partly influenced by the Lotus Esprit sports car that doubled as a submarine in the 1970s James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me.

“It misses the core truck buyer,” said analyst Gene Munster of venture capital firm Loup Ventures. “A contractor is not going to show up to a worksite in this truck. That said, Tesla will still sell some of them.”

Some analysts were a little more forgiving.

“This obviously wasn’t a true production vehicle so Tesla gets a pass for now,” said Akshay Anand, executive analyst at automotive research firm Kelley Blue Book, of the windows being broken in the live-streamed demonstration. “But if they are going to market the glass as a differentiator, they better be able to show stronger tests leading up to launch.”

The truck marks the first foray by Tesla, whose Model 3 sedan is the world’s top-selling battery-electric car, into pick-up trucks, a market dominated by Ford Motor Co’s F-150, along with models by General Motors Co, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

The automaker has so far sold mostly Model S and Model 3 sedans, but also offers the Model X sports utility vehicle (SUV) and starting next year the Model Y compact SUV.

A focus on the high-performance end of the market is only natural given the success of Ford’s 450-horsepower F-150 Raptor truck, which launched in 2009 and whose sales have since risen annually, according to Ford spokesman Mike Levine.

While Ford does not disclose Raptor sales, Levine said annual demand is well above 19,000 vehicles and that the second-largest vehicle maker in the US has never had to offer incentives on the model, which costs in the high $60,000 range. Ford also offers the more expensive F-150 Limited, its most powerful and luxurious pick-up truck.

Battle of the carmakers

Ford and GM are also gearing up to challenge Tesla more directly with new offerings like the Ford Mustang Mach E electric SUV as well as electric pick-up trucks.

Electric pick-up trucks and SUVs could help Ford and GM generate the significant EV sales they will need to meet tougher emission standards and EV mandates in California and other states.

US President Donald Trump‘s administration is moving to roll back those standards, but electric trucks are a hedge if California prevails.

Demand for full-sized electric pick-up trucks in the near term may not be huge, however.

Industry tracking firm IHS Markit estimates the electric truck segment – both full- and mid-sized models – will account for about 75,000 sales in 2026, compared with an expected 3 million light trucks overall. The Tesla truck is not part of that estimate.

Ford aims to sell an electric F-series in the second half of 2021, sources familiar with the plans said. It also will offer the Mach E next year as part of its plan to invest $11.5bn by 2022 to electrify its vehicles.

In April, Ford invested $500m in startup Rivian, which plans to build its own electric pick-up truck beginning in late 2020.

GM plans to build a family of premium electric pick-up trucks and SUVs, with the first pick-up due to go on sale in the second half of 2021. It plans to invest $8bn by 2023 to develop electric and self-driving vehicles.

Source: News Agencies