Meet the Cybertruck, Tesla's Ford-Fighting Pickup (2024)

The Cybertruck, Tesla’s all-new electric pickup truck, is here, looking like a triangle from the future, and it can take a sledgehammer to the door with nary a dent. And while that might not be a day-to-day use case for many prospective buyers, it’s very handy if you’re showing off the prowess of your latest all-electric model for the first time at a glitzy event in Los Angeles, as Tesla (and SpaceX) CEO Elon Musk did Thursday night. And just for fun, Musk showed off another new Tesla product: an (obviously) electric ATV. Truck production, according to Tesla’s website, is slated for late 2021.

The base version of the Cybertruck, with a single motor, will start at $39,900, good for 250 miles of range, a tow rating of 7,500 pounds, and a 0- to 60-mph time of 6.5 seconds. A dual-motor $49,000 version can tow 10,000 pounds and reach 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, with 300 miles of range. And the top-of-the-line variant, starting at $69,900, will go more than 500 miles between charges, hit 60 mph in under 3 seconds, tow up to 14,000 pounds, and start production in late 2022. That one, according to a slide Musk showed, has a tri-motor setup, though the CEO didn’t explain how that would work. (Single-motor setups tend to put the motor on the rear axle, dual-motor setups put one motor on each axle.)

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In his unusually short, 25-minute presentation, Musk spoke to the importance of entering the pickup segment, one of the most popular in the US. “We need something different. We need sustainable energy now,” Musk said on stage, before a crowd of fans and journalists at SpaceX’s headquarters.

As with its other models, Tesla gave Cybertruck some thoughtful goodies. It has 120-volt and 240-volt power outlets and an onboard air compressor, turning the truck into a mobile power station for work sites. According to previous Twitter reveals from Musk, it can parallel park itself (now a common feature in new cars) should it ever wander into a city. And, for unclear reasons, it’s bulletproof, at least to a 9-millimeter handgun. Though when Musk invited Tesla designer Franz von Holzhausen to throw a metal ball at the window, the result was major cracking, and a somewhat embarrassed CEO.

Putting aside a less than ideal performance onstage, the Cybertruck represents a potentially big part of Tesla’s future, as the automaker seeks to expand its footprint and improve its financials. Pickup trucks make up roughly 15 percent of US vehicle sales, a share that has steadily grown since 2009, according to research shop IHS Markit. The Ford F-150 has been the top-selling passenger vehicle in the US for 36 years straight; Americans buy nearly a million every year. More important, pickups produce serious profits: Reuters has reported that General Motors nets, on average, $17,000 per pickup. On high-end models with the sorts of options that push sale prices above $100,000, that margin can reach $50,000. And while Tesla will have serious competition here, the pickup battlefield is mostly limited to domestic manufacturers, thanks to Lyndon Johnson’s “chicken tax” that puts a 25 percent tariff on imported light trucks.

Courtesy of Tesla

Since it started building the lowish-cost Model 3 by the tens of thousands, hitting its stride in the back half of 2018, Tesla has relied on volume to periodically break into the black, sending Musk on a long, painful slog through “production hell.” A vehicle line that delivers more money per vehicle could ease that pressure. As with luxury sedans and SUVs, IHS Markit analyst Stephanie Brinley says, “people will pay more for more space and more capability.”

That capability will be key to the Cybertruck’s success. Unlike luxury SUVs with off-roading abilities nobody really uses, pickups are commonly put to work. Many go to contractors, construction workers, and the like—folks who need their beds and capacious torque to get a job done. Others go to civilians who spend their weekends dirt biking, riding horses, or taking the boat to the lake, and who need a pickup’s power to schlep their equipment around. “You can’t swap in a Camry for an F-150,” Brinley says.

The good news for Tesla is that pickups can make good electric vehicles, and vice versa. The large, expensive vehicles accommodate large, expensive batteries better than a compact sedan does. The torque that flows so easily from electric motors and allows for Tesla’s “ludicrous” acceleration is also what gives the Cybertruck its strength. Owners who drive set routes between work sites might be able to plan their charging stops. Pickup customers are less likely to live in an apartment building than a single-family house where they can install a home charger. On the other hand, public charging infrastructure is hardly developed in the middle of the country where pickups are especially popular. As an example, Chargepoint, the nation’s largest EV charging provider, has more than 500 stations in San Francisco and fewer than 150 in North and South Dakota combined. Tesla has just eight supercharger stations in South Dakota, and none in its northern neighbor.

Meet the Cybertruck, Tesla's Ford-Fighting Pickup (2024)

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