I think I'm beginning to understand it

I don’t normally go anywhere in the evenings, as I’ve got young kids and don’t want to leave my wife alone to deal with them if they wake up. But last night I made an exception to go and watch the Cybertruck unveil with a few friends. I’ll be honest - when it was first unveiled, I seriously thought that Elon was trolling everyone, and that they were going to push the “wedge” of stage, and bring out the real truck. I think the audience was expecting something similar. Let’s be honest - the audience was probably the most rabid Tesla fanboys/fangrils that there are. And when that truck was brought out, there was a bit of a collective “What the...?”. I thought it was hideous. But at least I think I’m beginning to understand it.

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Some time ago on Twitter, Elon asked what people wanted in a truck. The hive-mind of the social-media connected internet gave its collective opinion on what they wanted, or needed in a truck. The list that they came up with was probably the kind of comprehensive data that Ford or GM would love to get their hands on (and still could, if they cared). Elon and his crew probably took this list, and did a very reasonable job of trying to check off everything important on it. Things like:

  • Decent price with a decent range.
  • Seating for 5 or 6.
  • Something durable.
  • The ability to power tools, directly from the truck.
  • Good ground clearance and some off-road chops.
  • Easier access in/out of the box.
  • Ability to carry a standard 4x8 sheet of plywood.
  • Places to tie down the load within the box.
  • A way of protecting the contents of the box (preferably without an aftermarket box cover).
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Let’s start with the price and range. Other than the polarizing looks, this is the only other thing that really shocked me. In order to get the price that low, they must be sticking with a smaller battery pack, or really hoping that battery costs are going to drop more by the time production starts (which will also probably happen). In order to keep the battery pack small, that means aerodynamics are going to have to play a big role. That means it isn’t can’t be 10 feet tall and two lanes wide. It also means making the back of the truck as aerodynamic as possible, which means something like a cammback - a gently sloping rear surface, rather than an abrupt change to an empty box.

The seating for 5 or 6, which seems like the most common seating arrangements for trucks these days, means having two rows. (Let’s be honest - most pickup trucks are being used as large sedans with uncovered trunks, so targeting that market makes the most sense). If it has two rows, and the box length is 6.5 feet, then that means making the whole vehicle a little longer, or pushing the cab as forward as possible.

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The durability is an interesting aspect. Watching the durability during the unveiling was... painful. The glass is supposed to be more impact resistant than standard automotive glass, which makes sense when your windshield is a giant sheet of the stuff. Here in Alberta, windshields are replaced with some frequency, as in winter we sand and salt the roads. The grit that ends up the roads is kicked up by cars, and it’s not uncommon to get rock chips or cracks on a windshield in a very short period of time. (After replacing my cracked/chipped windshield, it only took a few months before I got another rock chip). The stainless steel body sounds like it will be more resistant to dings and nicks, which are bound to happen in mall parking lots. And in theory, it shouldn’t rust. Some other manufacturers could learn a thing or two about rust prevention *cough* Toyota *cough*. But does that mean that a standard paint job will be an option, and brushed metal will be the default? Who knows. People have already suggested vinyl wrapping it, which is an option. There’s also no doubt that someone will spray bed-liner all over it.

The ability to power tools directly from the truck is a no-brainer. It’s essentially a giant rolling battery pack. I’m sure many a tradesman would appreciate this - the ability to charge things up or run tools on a job site that doesn’t yet have power. (Although how many trades people will actually buy one of these will yet to be seen).

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The ground clearance was mentioned in the presentation as being something like 18". That is significant. It’ll be interesting to see if Tesla actually managed a decent suspension setup, as opposed to the nearly impossible to modify Model X suspension. (Finding a set of truck tires that fit the Model X while still clearing suspension components and the brakes is nearly impossible, due to a rather poorly placed suspension component).

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During the presentation they also showed a built in ramp into the tailgate. I think the idea here is that it makes getting a payload in/out of the truck easier, especially with the rear suspension dropping down to lower the back half of the truck. I’m curious about the durability of the air suspension, though. Tesla doesn’t exactly have decades of truck building experience with regards to building durable products, so it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up in the long run.

One thing that wasn’t mentioned (or at least I didn’t catch it) is the width of the box. I sincerely hope that it’s wide enough to hold a 4 foot wide sheet of plywood/drywall. It does look like there’s no intrusion of the rear wheels into the box, which is unique. It does appear that the box has good lighting (instead of a weak little light up on the rear of the truck), and it does appear to have some sort of tie down system with some sort of rails running the length of the box. (I recall a rather frustrating experience with an older Dodge pickup truck, which had absolutely no place to tie something down to in the box. If we had ratchet straps, it would have been fine, but good luck using rope to tie anything down).

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The way the rear of the truck either rolls or slides down also looks like it could provide some security/protection to the contents of the box when the owner isn’t around. It seems like Tesla heard the message here and built it in from the get-go, rather than relying on aftermarket solutions. This is especially important if it is going to be used like a large sedan with a giant trunk (which seems to be the use case of many trucks).

Okay. But what about the down-sides?

  • From footage taken during a ride-along after the event, it seems like the A-pillar visibility is... poor, especially around the small front window just ahead of the front door.
  • Is the “frame” truly a monocoque? If so, how will it hold up to the duty cycle of truck use and abuse?
  • Is there a frunk?
  • Will the frameless doors be any decent? Will the door handles be durable? Can they be grabbed while wearing work gloves?
  • What are the stock wheels and tires actually going to look like? (I suspect there’s going to be a few changes there to keep the range to what they say it’s going to be).
  • How will it hold up in an accident? Can the stainless steel be repaired without special equipment? How will individual body parts be repaired? Are there actually separate body panels, or is it fabricated as one giant piece?
  • Pedestrian safety will be... interesting. I suspect some modifications are going to be needed for this to meet any sort of pedestrian safety standards.
  • No amber colored turn signals that I could see. This would need to be changed before it could be sold in most parts (if not all?) of Europe.
  • Where’s the windshield wipers and rear view mirrors? Like every true concept vehicle, it seems to be missing both.
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And there’s the elephant in the room - the looks. So far I think the best word I’ve heard used to describe it is “polarizing”. At first I thought it was hideous, but I think it’s slowly growing on me.  There’s some beauty in something that is purely functional.  I’m a huge fan of function over form, but why can’t we have both?

I’m also growing older, and mold also grows on cheese, so take my word with a grain (or a pound) of salt.

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