Tesla Cybertruck: Revenge of the nerds makes a smashingly awkward debut
It was set up to be the ultimate nerd movie showdown: a bare-faced challenge to the masculinity of America and a re-definition of the word "tough." Elon Musk stutteringly unveiled the company's super-weird Cybertruck pickup at a lights-and-lasers Hollywood event that would've made P.T. Barnum proud ... if it didn't accidentally give itself a very public wedgie.
Dressed like a Terminator and enjoying the crowd's energy, Musk started out by complaining that "for 100 years, trucks have been basically the same. We want to do something different. It's hard to tell which is which with the logos off. The top three selling vehicles in America are pickup trucks. We can't solve sustainable energy if we don't have a pickup truck."
And then he brought this thing out:
Some in the crowd started laughing. Others gawped in shock. "It doesn't look like anything else," said Musk, and he wasn't wrong. The Cybertruck is a complete departure from the smooth, flowing forms of the rest of the Tesla range. It's a sharp, angular, wedge-shaped metal thing that looks like it's been left on low graphics settings.
There's not a curve to be seen, let alone any paint. The back end is particularly hideous, an absolute affront to automotive design. Honestly, my first thought was "it's a joke, he's gonna hit a button and all that metal will drop off and it'll be something pretty."
It was not a joke. This is it. And somehow, the longer we looked, the better it started looking. Particularly when we realized that if this thing looks like a space vehicle, that's because it literally might be one day.
Yes, the Cybertruck is already "the official truck of Mars," because it's 2019, and we're living in an age where a billionaire polymath from South Africa, who's spearheading humanity's birth as an interplanetary species, and building weird vacuum trains, and starting revolutions in money, cars, energy storage and renewable energy, is able to use rich Californians to fund and test out the electric vehicles he wants to drive on Mars one day. Which crazy timeline is this?
The chassis is unlike anything else, a ridiculously durable exoskeleton built from "ultra-hard 30X cold-rolled stainless steel" that Musk literally had an employee wail on with a sledgehammer. It didn't leave so much as a scratch. What the hell?
"You want a truck that's really tough, not fake tough," Musk laughed, "You want a truck you can take a sledgehammer to, that won't scratch, that doesn't dent? What else can we do to this truck? What if we shoot it? Let's shoot it. Sorry, we're in California, unfortunately." Apparently you can shoot it – a video showed a 9mm bullet leaving a small dent in the metal.
"We'll be using the same alloy in the Starship rocket and the Cybertruck," said Musk. "Normal trucks might as well be made out of tissue paper. When we say "it's built tough," that's what we mean."
He then went on to demonstrate Tesla's super-tough armor glass, which ... didn't go so well. While it happily resisted some theatrical drop tests unscathed, when a Tesla employee took a heavy metal ball and threw it at the side window, it smashed. After a shocked pause, Musk pointed out "it didn't go through," and told the poor guy to try the back window instead. That smashed too, despite looking like a bit of a soft ball.
"We threw everything at the glass, including the kitchen sink," mused Musk, "and it didn't break. For some reason, it's broken now." Yes, yes it was. And the two smashed windows remained there behind Musk for the rest of the presentation, a reminder of the risk of hubris.
The Cybertruck has adaptive damping and adaptive ride height, allowing it to self-balance loads, to lower itself for highway efficiency, to raise itself for serious off-roading and to handle "like it's on rails" in the corners. The wheels are right out at the nose, offering an extreme approach angle to difficult terrain and some 16 inches of ground clearance. "You could basically do the Baja Rally in this thing," said Musk, the smashed windows twinkling behind him.
It'll do 0-60 mph (0-98 km/h) in 2.9 seconds, and a quarter mile in a ridiculous 10.8 seconds in its highest performance variant. In top spec, it'll go as far as 500 miles (800 km) on a charge, making it a genuine option for multi-day off-road adventures, and its 250-plus kilowatt charging capability means fast top-ups are on the cards, too. Towing capacity is over 7,500 lb (3,400 kg), which Musk happily demonstrated in an uphill tug of war against a hapless F150.
In practical terms, it offers a built-in, pull-out ramp that leads up to the rear tray – a tray that reveals itself after you roll back an aerodynamic lid. As you pull out the ramp, the suspension adjusts high at the front, low at the back, to make loading up easier. The ramp is strong enough for you to easily ride an ATV up into the tray, which Musk demonstrated using a nice little sweetener in the form of a Tesla electric ATV. Once on board, you can charge an electric toy as you haul it.
There are 110/220-volt onboard outlets, plus an onboard air compressor – and images on the website appear to show Tesla taking a modular approach by offering pop-up tents, pull-out cooking gear and tables to make the Cybertruck a self-contained camping station.
Autopilot will be standard on all models, and the pricing was a very pleasant surprise: this weird, but highly functional machine will start at US$39,900 for a lower-performance 250-mile (400-km) version, moving up to US$69,900 for the 500-mile truck.
I feel like there was something there for everyone to enjoy at this launch. Tech heads will have enjoyed a truly strange and potentially revolutionary product. Space fans have been sent into a wonderful flurry of speculation. Tesla fans will have loved watching Musk talk tough to the truck fraternity; the ultimate Silicon Valley uber-nerd challenging the masculinity of the redneck jocks in his indestructible exo-suit. And Ford execs and coal rollers would've loved watching him snag his underpants on the door handle during his moment of triumph.
Of course, Musk raises a pretty good point: what good is a super tough truck if you can scratch thousands of dollars off it with a shopping trolley? The Cybertruck is a genuinely weird brute of a thing that just may beat the big boys at their own game off the beaten track. But thanks to this wonderfully awkward introduction, it's also a truck everyone's going to want to throw trolleys at in the car park, just to see what will happen.
More photos in the gallery!
Source: Tesla Motors