Here’s what the Tesla Cybertruck needs to become a threat to established truckmakers

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November 22, 2019 09:45 AM

Here’s what the Tesla Cybertruck needs to become a threat to established truckmakers

Is the Cybertruck the shape of things to come from Tesla, an unforced error or a practical joke?

Jay Ramey

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The Tesla Cybertruck could have taken credible aim at the Rivian R1T or the Honda Ridgeline, but instead it poked holes in the EV maker’s credibility and windows. An opportunity missed?

There were audible gasps in the audience and a few seconds of silence as the Tesla Cybertruck made its debut last night at the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne, California, before the crowd rebounded with another cheer. The truck overdelivered on the sci-fi design, to put it mildly, but ended up underdelivering when it came to a lot of other details. 
We couldn’t hear it over the booming music, especially from a couple of thousand miles away, but we felt that the Big Three domestic pickup truckmakers back in Michigan, plus Toyota, Nissan and Honda, must have breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing the truck, likely judging that it will not be threat to their sales. And that could be a very warranted expectation given what we saw last night—and not just because it looks like the Citroen Karin concept was scaled up to the size of a Silverado and given stainless-steel bodywork.
The concept demonstrated plenty of sharp angles as well as a few missed opportunities, some of which may be addressed when (and if) the Cybertruck goes into production. 
First, the truck could have been very conventionally styled; all other Tesla models have just been sedans of varying degrees of bulbousness. Up until the moment the teaser image was released, industry observers expected a unibody design with four doors that was basically a Tesla Model X with a longer wheelbase and a truck bed out back, something that could appeal to those who may have been considering a Honda Ridgeline. Had Tesla shown such a concept, it would have probably been warmly received because Tesla was not really going after the suburban and rural F-150 demographic. Rather, it was targeting the suburban and urban truck buyers who likely already own an electric vehicle, but have hobbies and home improvement projects and perhaps aren’t on board with the doors of the Model X. No one would have faulted Tesla had it gone in a safer design direction, and market analysts would have probably applauded it: “Hey, this thing will actually sell!” 
That’s not what happened. And perhaps Tesla, if it’s serious about putting the truck into production (which it may not be, given the fact that assembly space is tight as it is before the planned launch of the Model Y) will make the production version of the truck more conventional. The EV maker could cover it by saying “Well, that was a concept meant to stir attention, and this is the production version meant to appeal to a wider audience.”

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Tesla

Tesla reinvents the pickup truck.

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Tesla reinvents the pickup truck.

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Tesla

Tesla reinvents the pickup truck.

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Tesla reinvents the pickup truck.

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Tesla reinvents the pickup truck.

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Tesla reinvents the pickup truck.

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Tesla reinvents the pickup truck.

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Tesla reinvents the pickup truck.

Second, the functionality of the Cybertruck made very little effort to appeal to actual truck buyers, whether of the unibody variety such as the Honda Ridgeline or the heavier duty offerings sized like the Ford F-150/Ram 1500/Chevrolet Silverado. Musk himself had indicated that the development team had been benchmarking the Cybertruck against the F-150 in its development process, but the concept shown last night lacked basic features, like being able to see pedestrians well through the thick A-pillars of the windshield. The cabin, while roomy, also made little effort to show off ergonomics expected by truck buyers, featuring a dash once again dominated by a large touchscreen. Perhaps Tesla can once again point out that this was a concept and that the production version will appeal to those who may not have been in the market for an electric vehicle in the first place—but it was a missed opportunity to sell prospective buyers on the interior.
Speaking of prospective buyers, it’s not a foregone conclusion that when the Tesla truck is promised to enter production, in late 2021, that there will be demand for an electric truck outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. There will certainly be those who will buy the truck no matter what it looks like, but will they be farmers in Nebraska who tow horse trailers or will they be high-income households in the Bay Area suburbs that already have two other Tesla cars? This part of the equation is still a mystery to Tesla, to Rivian, to Bollinger and to the companies that keep a close eye on vehicle demand. It’s one thing to sell the truck to money-no-object early adopters who probably won’t use it as such, except at their ranch in Lake Tahoe or Sun Valley, but it’s quite another to actually make a repeat Ford F-150 buyer consider an electric version that beats it in some parameters. 
Fourth, the interior ergonomics may not matter to the suburban buyer, but the automaker didn’t make an effort to sell the unconverted buyers on a lot of the aspects that matter to truck buyers—unless we count the demonstration of its payload capacity, which caused the rear suspension to sag when the Tesla four-wheel bike rolled into the bed. The pickup truck segments in the U.S. are perhaps the most cutthroat segments simply because so many sales are at stake, and it’s the small details that make the difference, not big ones.

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Citroen

The Karin was a styling exercise that distantly previewed a number of wedge-shaped Citroens of later years, most notably the XM.

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Citroen

The Karin was a styling exercise that distantly previewed a number of wedge-shaped Citroens of later years, most notably the XM.

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Citroen

The Karin was a styling exercise that distantly previewed a number of wedge-shaped Citroens of later years, most notably the XM.

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Citroen

The Karin was a styling exercise that distantly previewed a number of wedge-shaped Citroens of later years, most notably the XM.

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Citroen

The Karin was a styling exercise that distantly previewed a number of wedge-shaped Citroens of later years, most notably the XM.

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Citroen

The Karin was a styling exercise that distantly previewed a number of wedge-shaped Citroens of later years, most notably the XM.

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Citroen

The Karin was a styling exercise that distantly previewed a number of wedge-shaped Citroens of later years, most notably the XM.

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Citroen

The Karin was a styling exercise that distantly previewed a number of wedge-shaped Citroens of later years, most notably the XM.

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About the only part of the Cybertruck that may worry “legacy automakers” is the price of the base version of the vehicle, expected to start at $39,900, assuming it enters production and achieves a level of nationwide sales that go beyond early adopters and the Tesla faithful. It can certainly be a niche EV, but that’s not quite the test these days—anything can be a niche EV. Rather, the test is whether it can convert at least some gas- or diesel-engined truck buyers while not losing too much money for the automaker building it.
Speaking of production, the Cybertruck is now the fourth Tesla model shown in concept form that’s yet to reach production, out of a total of four. The Tesla Semi, Roadster and Model Y have all been shown in the past few years, but they’re still (hopefully) making their way through the pipeline. The three others have been promised with different due dates, but out of the three, it’s perhaps the Model Y that appears to be a priority for the automaker, if for no other reason than heavy reliance on Model 3 parts and the most sales potential. At some point—and this has been said before—Tesla has to follow through on some of the concepts that it has promised to put into production and deposits for which it has accepted. Other automakers, especially those that field pickups, are also aware that Tesla’s manufacturing footprint likely cannot permit all four of the promised models to enter production in the next two years, especially given the fact that the Model Y will likely yield the most sales. They could be taking the late 2021 launch date of the Cybertruck with a grain of salt.

Tesla

The truck was promised to enter production by late 2021.

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The stainless-steel exterior could also pose significant production challenges if it survived into a production model. Steel in general is something that Tesla has had issues with welding in the recent past; it’s even more difficult to work with when it has to go on the exterior of a car, which is why we rarely see it used in any significant amount for non-decoration purposes. In the thicknesses that the concept truck shown, including some of the angles that it has to achieve to follow that design (or any other design), it is a difficult material to work with in practice, especially on the level of mass production. 
Finally, and not that it matters to the truck-buying demographic, the presentation inadvertently poked a hole in the promises being made on the stage when the designer threw a metal ball against the “Tesla armor glass” windows to demonstrate their toughness. It’s a little surprising that the Tesla team had not tested this prior to the reveal, even with unfitted materials, to find out that even actual ballistic glass that weighs hundreds of pounds will shatter when hit with heavy metallic objects or a hammer but will not let the projectile through. Avoiding being shot in traffic would, admittedly, be a feature that Tesla could have pioneered in the consumer truck world, had it fitted off-the-shelf VR7-level ballistic glass. But actual ballistic glass would have added around 1,000 pounds to the curb weight of the truck. The glass may have been of the anti-vandal VR4-level, but it’s clear that the truck was not engineered from scratch to pass any kind of certified test. 
This part of the presentation seemed like an unforced error, demonstrating a feature that enjoys almost no demand in the market while poking holes in the claims being made. Instead it cast some doubt on the other promised specs of the design, all of which are in question until we can test one independently.

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Source:https://autoweek.com/article/trucks/heres-what-tesla-cybertruck-needs-become-threat-established-truckmakers

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