Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised a "heart-stopping" design with Blade Runner cues for his company's pickup truck. Here in Los Angeles in November 2019, the wild Tesla Cybertruck is certainly going to excite the faithful and provoke cardiac episodes in traditionalists everywhere. The automotive world hasn't seen this kind of brutalist wedge design since a Seventies concept car, and it's safe to say there's never been a pickup like this outside a sci-fi movie set.
First thing first: Yes, that is really how the production truck will look when it starts rolling off the lines in 2021. Any resemblance to another famous slope-faced vehicle made of stainless steel promising the future is surely a coincidence.
Musk began his presentation with a bunch of side-profile images of pickups over the decades to highlight how unchanged the form really is. And so Tesla's change comes in a triangular-shaped crew cab pickup truck where the exterior body panels are in fact the vehicle's "Ultra-Hard 30X Cold-Rolled stainless-steel" bulletproof structural exoskeleton. Say goodbye to body-on-frame construction; it's the same material used on SpaceX's Starship craft. We're just getting started here.
It looks big, but that's more a trick of the insane design than actual size. The Cybertruck is 231.7 inches long (with a 6.5-foot bed), 79.8 inches wide, and 75 inches tall, which places it in the normal range of today's half-ton trucks depending on bed length. To prove how tough the body is, Musk invited Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen on stage to smack both a Ford pickup door and the Cybertruck with a sledgehammer. The Ford was very dented. The Tesla was not.
Obviously, the Tesla Cybertruck also bids adieu to the traditional internal combustion pickup truck with a trio of electric powertrains: single-motor rear-wheel drive, dual-motor all-wheel drive, and tri-motor all-wheel drive. The latter is something Tesla's been working on for a while with the Tesla Model S Plaid prototype, and given the advantages of torque vectoring off piste we're not surprised to see it available here. Horsepower and torque figures aren't yet available.
Likewise, exact battery specs haven't been released, but the RWD truck will have a 250+ mile range, the dual-motor AWD will go 300+ miles, and the tri-motor AWD truck is promising 500 miles to give it the longest range of any electric vehicle on sale today. In terms of raw capabilities, Musk is claiming the Cybertruck will run the table. Payload capacity is said to be 3,500 pounds, well into heavy-duty truck territory, and the all-important towing figures are as follows:
- Single-motor RWD: 7,500+ pounds
- Dual-motor AWD: 10,000+ pounds
- Tri-motor AWD: 14,000+ pounds
That 300,000-pound figure that Musk bandied about last year is nowhere to be found. But we'll take realism where we can get it in this case. The tri-motor AWD powertrain will deliver Tesla's customary rapid acceleration in the form of a 2.9-second zero to 60 mph time and a 10.8-second quarter mile—plus a frankly-surprising 130-mph top speed. And thanks to the standard air suspension, it will also offer up to 16 inches of ground clearance and a Jeep-like 33-degree approach angle for off-road travel. Its approach angle mirrors that of the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, and its departure angle bests the Jeep Gladiator.
The bed—there is in fact a bed hiding in that triangle that converts to a 100-cubic-foot lockable trunk with a roll-down cover—isn't the only storage on board. There's also a frunk and (presumably optional) compartments along downward-sloping roofline behind the rear side windows. Speaking of those, they're made of armored glass that accidentally broke during the on-stage demo when von Holzhausen hurled a steel ball at it. Musk looked honestly surprised and said that was the first time the glass had shattered during that particular test.
Being a Tesla, there's a whole bunch of extras. Yes, Musk is really claiming that the exoskeletal body can stop a 9mm round, though there's no information on a specific armor rating. The tri-motor truck will come with standard Autopilot to give it the most advanced ADAS offering on the market. There will be onboard 110-volt and 220-volt outlets plus an air compressor to power electric and pneumatic tools. It'll seat six people with a jump seat in the front-middle spot. Press photos also show a rectangular steering wheel and a single centrally-mounted screen on the dash as well as a panoramic glass roof. There's another photo in the press kit showing some planned extras like a bed tent and fold-out kitchen—definitely not a shot at overland-focused Rivian, no sir.
And of course, Musk pulled his usual "one more thing" trick to show off a second new product on the stage on Thursday night. Tesla will be making an electric ATV called the Cyberquad that conveniently fits in the bed of the Cybertruck and can charge off its larger battery. It's got at least one running prototype too, as another assistant drove one up on the stage and into the bed via a convenient fold-down tailgate ramp.
Perhaps most striking is the starting price. The base RWD Tesla Cybertruck will start at $39,900, a surprise to many who were expecting a sticker of around $50,000 at minimum. That's where dual-motor AWD truck will start, while the tri-motor stomper will cost nearly $70,000 without options. It's available to order now with a $100 deposit, and the configurator is live on Tesla's website. Production is scheduled to begin in 2021 for the two cheaper trims and late 2022 for the tri-motor truck.
You'd be forgiven if this all feels like a fever dream—the harried presentation certainly had that feel at times, and no one was expecting the Cybertruck to actually look like it rolled off the set of Blade Runner. In a hypothetical 2024 electric pickup truck marketplace where customers have a choice between the mostly-conventional Rivian RT1 and the probably-gonna-look-like-a-truck BEV Ford F-150, it's fair to question the demand for something like this. Musk is also making some typically strong claims in a segment that really doesn't suffer fools. Or are we all the fools, and Musk is showing us the future? This we know: The next decade will be interesting.