Opinion: Cybertruck and Musk Deserve to be Celebrated

can be reached at michael.harley@coxautoinc.com
can be reached at michael.harley@coxautoinc.com
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Elon Musk blew up the Internet last week when he rolled out Tesla’s all-new “Cybertruck.” The six-passenger vehicle is slab-sided, clad in stainless steel, and allegedly bullet-proof. Nothing remotely similar has ever been shown by a mainstream automaker – the miscreation appeared as if it had just rolled off a futuristic Hollywood movie set. It looked, quite frankly, like an oversized prop.

Channeling P.T. Barnum, Musk bashed the truck’s armored sides with a hammer and watched his designer, Franz von Holzhausen, throw oversized ball bearings at its side glass. (When the glass failed, Musk shrugged off the mishap with a grin, improvising, “Oh, my [bleep]ing god. Maybe that was a little too hard. It didn’t go through… so there’s a plus side.”) He then showed videos of the Cybertruck winning a race against a Porsche 911 and dragging a Ford F-150 backwards in a tug-of-war. The theatrics were over the top, but it was hard to deny the results – Tesla grabbed nearly every headline that night, and the public now sees the automaker as the leading player in electric vehicle engineering and design (Ford’s all-new Mustang Mach-E, introduced earlier in the week, was swamped in the wake of the Cybertruck introduction).

Ford introduced their Mustang-inspired EV SUV, the Mach-E, earlier in the week. (Photo: Ford)

The media, initially stunned by the pickup’s appearance, leapt into action. They compared the Cybertruck to the ill-fated DMC DeLorean and the unsightly Pontiac Aztek. One publication called it “a Toblerone on wheels” (a reference to popular pyramid-shaped Swiss chocolate bar). Industry insiders doubted the low retail price, while other experts questioned the use of stainless steel (galvanic corrosion is a continuous issue) or its touted range and towing capabilities. Financial analysists questioned the ability of Tesla to meet promised production and delivery schedules.

The Pontiac Aztec (2001 – 2005) has often been cited as the ugliest production vehicle design — until now. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Most were missing the point – Musk had already won, and his greatest accomplishment had gone almost unnoticed.

Today’s pickup trucks are profoundly boring. Touted as workhorses, they are boxy, ungainly, and about as futuristic as a wooden wagon wheel. Blame the physical constraints of bulky engines, voluminous fuel tanks, and necessary gaping air intakes for cooling. On the other hand, electric vehicles utilize small motors and flat battery packs. Elon, who relishes scoffing at the established industry, “wanted to try something different,” so he pushed the envelope to unconventional levels – the result is a triangular oddity that appears pulled right out the 80’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner.

Stainless steel body panels have been rare in production vehicles, but were used on the DMC DeLorean, like this 1981 example. (Photo: DMC)

Whether it lives up to any of its claims or not is immaterial – the Tesla Cybertruck represents a design unencumbered by established boundaries. It should be fostered as leap forward for consumers, who will be treated to more tantalizing shapes and designs. And it should be embraced by automotive designers of all ages, who will no longer be disciplined for thinking outside the accepted norms. Most important, Musk should be celebrated for bringing such a forward-thinking, and rather whimsical, dream to reality.

Ryan Gosling with a futuristic vehicle in a scene from “Blade Runner 2049.” (Image: Columbia Pictures)


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can be reached at michael.harley@coxautoinc.com
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