About an hour or so after Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed an absurd, futuristic, brutalist electric pickup called Cybertruck to the world, I pulled myself up into its passenger seat. A Tesla employee then took me and three others for a short joy ride down a temporarily closed-off road that lines one side of SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
We were riding in the mid-level, dual-motor version of the truck, which is supposed to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds and will eventually start at $49,900. But while the prototype truck was quick, the sensation of speed was dulled by its size and (undisclosed) weight. It didn’t really provide that thrilling jolt forward that Teslas are known for.
Instead, the most stunning thing about my ride in the Cybertruck was how big and roomy it was. Say what you will about the outside of the Cybertruck, but I (and the rear-seat passengers) had more space to spread out than previously seemed possible in a vehicle of this size, almost as if Tesla had pulled off some sort of magic trick.
And that’s sort of the whole deal with the Cybertruck, as far as I could tell by the end of the night. Yeah, it looks outrageous, with a design that’s more at home on the surface of Mars than in a Walmart parking lot. But if you’re willing to accept that, the truck could to be more than meets the eye when it goes into production in late 2021.
For instance, the single-motor base model of the Cybertruck will allegedly get 250 miles or more on a full battery, with a 3,500-pound payload limit and 7,500-pound towing capacity — all for basically the same price as the entry-level Model 3 and Model Y.
While the price goes up from there, so do the specs, all the way to a version with a proposed 500-plus mile range and 14,000-pound towing capacity, which is powered by the same three-motor “Plaid powertrain” the company has been testing at Laguna Seca and the Nürburgring. Musk promised the Cybertruck will crush any off-road scenario, too, thanks to adaptive air suspension, and up to 16 inches of ground clearance. Tesla also showed off photos of the truck on its website with an accompanying trailer, as well as camping gear, hinting at possible accessories (though, let’s see the production trucks first). There are even some table stakes features for a modern truck, like 110V and 220V outlets, and lockable storage, and some more unique touches, like an onboard air compressor.
All of this is hiding behind a stainless steel body, or “exoskeleton” as Musk called it, the design of which is what helped open up so much room in the cabin in the first place. (Musk said Tesla is using the same cold-rolled steel alloy in the Cybertruck body as SpaceX used for its Mars rocket prototype — another one of his projects that was derided for its looks, even though that vehicle eventually pulled off a successful test flight.)
Being a prototype, the inside of the truck didn’t exactly seem finished. While the dashboard almost looks like marble in Tesla’s official photos, it felt more like a slab of foam when I touched it. (The body was definitely steel though, which was quite literally cold to the touch.) There were no side mirrors, and the rear-view mirror was a display connected to a camera embedded in the back of the truck.
And though the Cybertruck was running what Tesla said is the next-generation version of its in-car software on a landscape-oriented, 17-inch touchscreen, the Tesla employee in the driver’s seat only tapped through a few settings during the ride. Now that the truck’s broken cover, that software is something I want to see more of in the coming months.
Tesla has built its entire existence on convincing people to buy something they didn’t think they wanted. Electric cars were derided as wimpy golf carts before the company came along. From that perspective, selling the Cybertruck may not be as radical a challenge for the company as it seems. Besides, to put it lightly, Elon Musk loves to swim upstream.
From my brief time in the truck, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to believe the polarizing design could fade to the back of people’s minds once they’re inside. The truck’s flat nose did sort of peak out behind the dashboard in front of me, but the spaciousness and the Model 3-style screen kept clawing my attention back inside. If anything, the Cybertruck feels so commanding from the front seats that drivers in the US — who’ve put sedans on death watch because they’re so taken with the ride height of SUVs and trucks— seem in some ways like the perfect customers. (With that in mind, it’s time to see some crash tests and hear about things like crumple zones, Tesla.)
“Good design is ridiculed a lot at first, and then over time it becomes normal,” Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics consulting at JD Power, said after the event. “It’s tough to say whether this is going to fit that mold, though.”
Musk spent months telling everyone that Tesla’s first electric pickup truck would look like something out of Blade Runner. And yet, for a brief moment after the truck appeared on stage, the entire room — one full of Tesla customers and fans from all around the world — fell practically silent in disbelief. As he rattled off the truck’s specs and features, I heard a few low exclamations of “what the fuck” before the hooting and hollering picked back up. It was as if the people in the room were expecting a different kind of magic trick, one where Musk would coyly laugh before revealing the true Tesla pickup truck, which would still eat Ford F-150s for breakfast, but look a little less alien. (That feeling only seemed to multiply when Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen broke the truck’s windows while trying to demonstrate their durability.)
Truth be told, anyone who attended the Cybertruck unveiling should have seen the design coming from the moment they arrived, because the company leaned so hard into the Blade Runner vibe for the event. Musk told Tesla fans and customers to dress in cyberpunk attire, and they did, with many sporting trench coats, colorful LED glasses, homemade outfits, and light-up sneakers. Tesla set up props from the movie (on loan from the Petersen Automotive Museum) in the parking lot. The company even constructed a noodle bar for anyone who got hungry.
But while Tesla’s brash CEO is well-known for missing deadlines, and often struggles to livee up to his own lofty promises, the Cybertruck has made one thing clear: sometimes, it’s worth taking him at his word.
Photography by Sean O’Kane / The Verge