America loves pickup trucks. Can Elon Musk win drivers over with a Tesla 'Cybertruck'?
Tesla unveiled its long-awaited pickup on Thursday, a futuristic "Cybertruck" at a Sci-Fi-style event with gimmicks and a cheering crowd.
Not everything went to plan. During an elaborate demonstration of the strength of the car's new unbreakable glass, CEO Elon Musk asked one of the people onstage to try to break its windows. They shattered.
"Maybe that was a little too hard," he said, punctuating his reaction with an expletive.
It was an awkward, off-script moment in an already over-the-top spectacle of machismo, strength and bold disruption, aimed at generating hype for a product that seemed like a real-life manifestation of something in the vein of a Batmobile.
The new truck marks the electric automaker's initial foray into a lucrative market dominated by America's best-selling vehicle, the Ford F-series truck. It's a bold push for the Silicon Valley firm and its CEO, who are hoping the to mobilize the same consumers that flock to heavy-duty, 4x4 work vehicles around a futuristic electric truck -- and expand the humble pickup's appeal in the process.
The company had long hinted the 'Cybertruck' would not look like a conventional L-shaped pickup. And it delivered on that promise Thursday night ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show, the same week Ford unveiled an all-electric variation of its storied Mustang.
The body featured an all-stainless steel "exoskeleton," sharp angles all over and a swooping windshield extended over a six-seat cabin.
The truck was unlike any conventional pickup available, Musk said, with an aircraft-inspired design that made it tougher than existing offerings on the market. He had another assistant demonstrate that onstage, whacking at a conventional car door, then the Cybertruck's door, with a large mallet. The Tesla didn't dent.
"You want a truck that's really tough," he said. "Not fake tough."
He also cued up a video of a Ford F-150 vs. Cybertruck tug of war, with the Tesla easily dragging the traditional truck away with squealing tires. "It was uphill," he joked. The company said it could go 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds.
Tesla said the models would be able to drive in ranges from 250, 300 and 500 miles. Prices would range from $39,900 for the 250-mile range single-motor version, $49,900 for the 300-mile dual-motor version and $69,900 for the 500 mile tri-motor version. Production was set to begin in late 2021, the company said.
"You can order now if you would like," Musk said. Tesla was charging $100 for preorders of the new vehicle on its website.
Throughout the demonstration, Tesla aimed to prove an electric truck could be as strong -- or stronger -- than traditional pickups. Musk also highlighted the substantial savings by negating the need to traditionally refuel. Musk touted the vehicle's high ground clearance, adjustable suspension and towing capacity of up to 14,000 pounds -- 7,500 on the base model. The truck has a payload of 3,500 pounds, Tesla said.
The demonstrations of strength were not limited to mallets and thrown objects.
"Let's shoot it," Musk quipped at one point, as audience members cheered on.
"Shoot it!" one yelled.
"We're in California, unfortunately," he replied, as the screen showed a picture demonstrating the frame was apparently bulletproof.
Analysts said Tesla doesn't necessarily have to tap the traditional pickup market to make the truck a sales success. A market trend analysis from Cox Automotive showed the pickup segment is growing along with SUVs while sedan sales have fallen over the past decade. Over the past decade, pickups grew to 17 percent of new vehicle sales, compared with 14 percent in 2009.
And automakers benefit from the fact that pickup buyers have few options to choose from, putting them among their best sellers.
"Trucks are experiencing a transformation similar to what happened with SUVs, attracting new buyers who rarely use the utility but appreciate the space and creature comforts trucks offer," said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds, in a statement. "The truck segment has the fewest number of models, leaving plenty of room for growth and for automakers to carve out new niches."
Regarding the design, she added: "If the Tesla truck wasn't somewhat polarizing, it wouldn't be a Tesla."
And polarizing it was. The Cybertruck instantly became an online meme after the presentation. The design elicited a mixture of awe and scorn, and very little in between. To one faction, it looked like it had been designed on Microsoft Paint or an old-school video game. To another, it was a revelation, a raw demonstration of the utilitarian needs of a sustainable future.
Some reported problems making reservations for the car as the site was swarmed.
In the reactions, many described it as: "post apocalyptic."
The Cybertruck rounds out a lineup that includes Tesla's flagship Model S sedan, it's Model X SUV and mass-market-aimed Model 3. The Model Y crossover, based on the Model 3 platform, is expected to be delivered to consumers beginning in 2020.
Musk celebrated the truck's debut in a tweet Thursday, quoting his 2012 Twitter pronouncement that he would "love to make a Tesla supertruck with crazy torque, dynamic air suspension and corners like it's on rails. That'd be sweet ..."
"Tonight," he wrote.
Later in the day, he appeared to try to amp up excitement with another tweet saying that the pressurized edition of the new vehicle "will be the official truck of Mars."
Musk wrapped up the presentation Thursday night in characteristic Silicon Valley fashion: with a surprise.
A built in ramp rolled off the pickup to load another new Tesla product: an electric ATV that drove into the truck bed.