Almost precisely four years after unveiling its first electric pickup, and after a long series of delays, Tesla finally delivered the first Cybertruck to customers at its Texas assembly plant on Thursday afternoon. The question is whether the all-electric pickup will live up to the hype it has received — considering it falls well short of its original range target while prices are 50% higher than what was promised in 2019. Even the automaker’s CEO Elon Musk isn’t as confident as normal.
“The future is here,” or so proclaimed Elon Musk as he prepared to deliver the first of the long-delayed Tesla Cybertruck pickups to a dozen customers on Thursday during a well-attended event at the automaker’s factory in Austin, Texas.
Whether the triangular truck really does represent the future is a matter of intense debate, and even Musk has been something of a spoiler in recent months, acknowledging there are a number of challenges manufacturing Cybertruck.
He recently acknowledged the slab-sided design is required because the truck’s heavy stainless steel body panels are difficult to line up properly. And he’s warned that sales volumes probably won’t come close to what Tesla once signaled when it claimed that advance “orders” — really just $100 refundable deposits — were nearing 1 million.
But Musk has been sending mixed signals for quite a while, starting in January 2019, just two months after the splashy debut of Cybertruck, suggesting, “nothing like it will ever be made again, and maybe it shouldn’t.”
Late to the party
There’s no question the Tesla Cybertruck is unlike any other pickup to come before it. That doesn’t actually start with its electric drivetrain, however, as the repeated postponements mean that several competitors got into showrooms first, starting with the GMC Hummer, and then the Rivian R1T and Ford F-150 Lightning.
Chevrolet’s is already rolling out low-volumes of its Silverado EV. GMC will add a second electric truck, the Sierra EV, in a year, and Ram has the 1500 Rev nearly ready to go.
With the exception of the GMC Hummer, the others don’t stray far from conventional pickup designs, however, so it’s a question of whether potential buyers will want to drive something as radical as Cybertruck.
Tesla is not only focusing on the design but the ostensible benefits of using uniquely developed stainless steel panels — which, noted Musk, cannot be stamped like regular steel, requiring the slab styling approach.
During a short presentation on Thursday, Musk ran several videos showing just how tough the truck is. It stopped a hail of bullets, he pointed out, adding that if this were a regular truck, “they would have gone through both sides. The heavy-gauge metal also stopped a steel-tipped arrow fired by Musk’s friend, podcaster Joe Rogan.
“The apocalypse could come along at any moment,” said Musk. “And at Tesla we have the finest apocalypse technology.”
The original Cybertruck debut went somewhat array when a steel ball was launched at the truck’s windows which then cracked — twice — something that wasn’t supposed to happen. Design chief Franz von Holzhausen was recruited on Thursday to show that problem was fixed. But he went with a hardball, rather than the original steel sphere and, to put it charitably, his arm is clearly not up to major league standards.
By the numbers
The presentation was filled with numbers meant to highlight Cybertruck’s capabilities. And some numbers were clearly impressive, like its ability to launch from 0-60 in 2.6 seconds with the topline “Cyberbeast” package, and run the quarter mile in under 11 seconds. That was quicker than a Porsche 911, Musk boasted — though that’s when talking about a base version of the German sports car.
Cybertruck, depending upon the model, will tow up to 11,000 pounds and carry a 2,500 payload. Impressive enough numbers, but certainly not benchmarks. The Ram 1500 Rev is expected to top out at 14,000 pounds towing.
What may surprise potential buyers who watched the original debut comes with the range numbers. According to data on the Tesla website — which wasn’t mentioned during Musk’s presentation, the best Cybertruck can do is 340 miles with the all-wheel-drive model. That drops to 320 with the Cyberbeast and 250 miles with the rear-wheel-drive package. Ford’s Lightning tops out at 320 and both the Ram REV and the Silverado EV are expected to get over 400 per charge, depending upon the trim package.
For those who might have forgotten, Musk in 2019 promised up to 500 miles per charge.
Big jump in pricing
But there’s another set of numbers that could shock EV pickup fans. Four years ago, the base rear-drive package was promised at around $40,000, the three-motor Cyberbeast at $70,000.
All automakers have raised prices since late 2019, but Tesla’s jump averages roughly 50% more than initially promised. That base model will now go for $60,990 before delivery fees, the AWD package, $79,990. And Cyberbeast will start at $99,990.
Those casually glancing at the Tesla website need to be cautious. The automaker tends to downplay MSRP numbers, highlighting the price when factoring in “probable savings,” which include potentially lower energy costs than gas pickups, as well as up to $7,500 in federal tax credits for those who qualify. Using that metric, the RWD Cybertruck would seem a bargain at $49,890.
Answers to a question no one was asking
There are clearly some nice features to Cybertruck, such as its incredibly tight turning radius. And it can store a 4×8 sheet of plywood in its cargo bed — though critics note that the truck’s angular design make it more difficult to access cargo than with a conventional truck.
“The problems that are very evident with the Cybertruck are problems with the concept itself,” Eric Noble, president of CarLab, an automotive consulting firm told the Los Angeles Times. “The market wasn’t asking for a stainless steel finish, wacky bed configuration, wacky roof line or wacky side visibility. Those are all answers to a question that the pickup truck market wasn’t asking.”
Sam Abuelsamid, lead auto analyst for Guidehouse Insights, is equally skeptical about Cybertruck’s future. “There’s going to be a limited number of people who want to actually buy this,” he told Headlight.News, “once you get past a core audience of true Musk believers.”
The Musk factor
Indeed, where Tesla once could count on Musk fanboys to help prop up its sales, the South African-born executive has become more and more of a liability, Abuelsamid and others believe, since his 2022 takeover of Twitter. He recently chased an array of major advertisers away from what is now X after posts seen by many as anti-Semitic.
And he appears to be scaring away Tesla customers, as well.
“I feel it’s the responsibility of public figures to act maturely and not be divisive. Based on the actions of Elon Musk since purchasing Twitter I would never consider purchasing a Tesla,” said Dave Assemany. The retired suburban Detroiter has owned three EVs over the past decade and was looking for a fourth but has decided to take any Tesla product off his shopping list.
A slow roll out
During a third-quarter earnings call last month, Musk downplayed the potential for his new pickup. Harkening back to the comment he made in January 2019, he suggested “We dug our own graves,” by going ahead with the Cybertruck program. On the other hand, he seemed more upbeat for its potential during the first delivery ceremony on Thursday.
Considering the bottlenecks Tesla faced at its Texas plant, production is expected to be exceeding slow and that’s not expected to get much better in the near-term.
Even if only a fraction of the original pre-orders turn into actual purchases, those on the list could be waiting a long time – especially those looking for the base rear-wheel-drive model which won’t go into production until sometime in 2025. Initially, Tesla will focus on the topline Cyberbeast package and then the all-wheel-drive model.
The question, said analyst Abuelsamid, is how many potential customers will keep waiting when there are so many alternatives to choose from in the growing EV pickup market.