Tesla has a history of teasing us with cool, new models years before they’re available. The Cybertruck is no exception. Not supposed to hit the road before 2021, we’ve nonetheless already been exposed to the slab-sided stuff mover that Elon Musk claims is a game-changer. And in some ways it is.
But the Tesla pickup is still a pickup, so it’s going to be judged by buyers who rely on their trucks for income, as well as for transportation and style. That ups the ante. A lot. So, can the Cybertruck hack it? Let’s examine what we already know:
10 Pretty Freakin’ Heavy
Elon Musk tweeted a video of Cybertruck pulling a Ford F150 up a hill. But as this rather detailed video explains, that proves nothing except the Tesla outweighs the Ford. Here’s why:
Both trucks have plenty of torque, but a tug-of-war like this solely depends on how much of it gets transferred to the ground. That’s simply a function of weight over the driven wheels. Based on the published weight of the smaller Model X, Cybertruck outweighs the F150. And even more importantly, it’s AWD while the Ford is RWD. Plain and simple, physics says the Cybertruck will win.
9 Not a Serious Off-Roader
With those aggressive tires, Cybertruck looks like an off-roader. And with an air suspension that can raise or lower the truck four inches, it can achieve an impressive 16 inches of ground clearance. But... That’s not all that matters off-road. As any rock-crawler will tell you, approach, departure, and break-over angles are the real tell of how gnarly a trail you can conquer.
With an approach angle of 35° and departure angle of 28°, Cybertruck beats the Ford F150 (24.8° approach and 27.1° departure). But nobody’s taking a stock pickup to Moab. Compare Cybertruck with the kinds of vehicles that really would hit the trail (Jeep Wrangler: 40.8°, 36° or Hummer H1: 72°, 29°) and you see that it’s more of a soft-roader than off-roader. But with on-board power and compressed air, it’ll be easy to camp, blow up rafts or air up the tires after a sand run.
8 It’ll Haul
Pickups are the #1, #2, and #3 top-selling vehicles. Since people buy ‘em to move stuff, Cybertruck has to haul or it just plain won’t sell. So does it? In a word, yes. If their pre-production specs are to be believed.
With a 3,500 lb load capacity, Cybertruck outclasses the three best selling regular-duty pickups by hundreds of pounds. Towing capacity is a bit more of a toss-up, though. The single-motor Cybertruck beats the Ram 1500, but not the F150 or Silverado 1500. However, step up to the dual- or tri-motor models and Cybertruck is neck and neck with the beefiest trucks on the market with a 10,000+ lb capacity for the dual-motor and vein-popping 14,000+ lb capacity for the tri-motor.
7 And it’ll Haul
Where Cybertruck will blow away the F150, Ram and Silverado is acceleration: 0-60 in under 2.9 seconds for the tri-motor. By now, we all know that as long as they have sufficient power, electric vehicles will provide massive acceleration because 100% of their torque is available from zero RPM throughout the RPM range. That’s different from internal combustion engines that develop peak torque in the middle of their RPM range – usually around 2,500-3,000 RPM.
This means acceleration starts slow and builds until peak torque is reached, and then slows again until the transmission shifts and the process repeats. Without power adders (turbos, superchargers, nitrous oxide, etc.), normal street-legal gasoline-powered engines are at a major disadvantage when it comes to acceleration.
6 Not Following the Standard Construction (what a surprise)
Back in the old days, cars were body-on-frame, which simply meant the body of the car (what you see and sit in) was bolted to a frame that kind of looks like a ladder, with the suspension then attached to it. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, manufacturers started moving to unibodies, which meant that the body was a stressed, rigid structure the suspension could be directly mounted to. This reduced weight for better gas mileage, and improved driving experience.
Today, pickup trucks are the holdout with most still being body on frame. It’s easier to repair than unibody. Heck, if the bed gets trashed, you can simply bolt a new one on. Elon Musk admits Cybertruck is a niche product, so Tesla probably felt confident using the familiar unibody construction here, making it and the Honda Ridgeline the only such pickups available.
5 Why it Looks Like That
Tesla claims the stainless steel construction of Cybertruck will, “...help eliminate dents, damage and long-term corrosion with a smooth monochrome exoskeleton that puts the shell on the outside of the car and provides you and your passengers maximum protection.” It also drives the appearance.
30X stainless steel (a proprietary alloy, likely similar to 301, 302, or 304, but with changes spec’d by SpaceX to increase corrosion resistance, strength or some other parameter) is harder to shape than mild steel used in other cars. With hardened steel, creases, angles and flat expanses of sheet metal are much easier to create – and, let’s admit – makes for a dramatic departure from the norm. Right? But that also means...
4 Expensive to Repair if Crashed
The added chromium content that makes stainless steel corrosion-resistant makes it more difficult to shape, as discussed above. It also makes it harder to weld. So… harder to shape plus harder to weld equals harder (and more expensive) to repair.
Then there’s the bit about it being unibody instead of body-on-frame. With a fully-welded monocoque, you can’t simply unbolt fenders or the bed and bolt new parts on. Dents will have to be pulled, massaged and reformed. And with no paint to hide body filler, the work has to be perfect. Which is hard (and expensive) to do.
3 Unbreakable Windows That, Unfortunately, Aren’t
Sometimes car manufacturers wind up with egg on their faces when things go sideways at press launches. Back in 2010, Volvo executives cringed as their S60 plowed into the back of a truck as the cameras rolled during their crash-avoidance demo. Last week was Elon’s turn to look sheepish as he stood in front of two massive cracks in Cybertruck’s window. He later explained it was because the sledgehammer demonstration weakened the Armor Glass ahead of the steel ball demo. His tweet sums it up:
“Sledgehammer impact on door cracked base of glass, which is why steel ball didn’t bounce off. Should have done steel ball on window, *then* sledgehammer on the door. Next time …”
2 Lots of Thoughtful Touches
Tesla doesn’t do normal. Never has. Never will. So nobody should be surprised that they’ve engineered lots of lockable storage into Cybertruck. 100 cubic feet of it. Of course, there’s the bed, but there’s also a frunk (front trunk, where the engine goes in regular cars and trucks) and a new twist: lockable storage bins in the rear quarter panels.
The cargo bed can also be covered by a “magic” tonneau cover that’s strong enough to stand on. Not sure how big a draw that is, but there it is. And finally, a feature that’s sure to be popular with ATV and motorcycle riders: built-in ramps that extend from the tailgate to make it easy to get your other ride in the back. Nice move, Tesla. This will probably be cribbed by Chevrolet, Dodge, and Ford ASAP.
1 It’s Likely Going to Need a Different Steering Wheel Before Launch
Steering yokes look cool (Knight 2000, anybody?). But they’re not great as steering wheels for the simple reason that they’re not a wheel. True, F1 race cars use yokes, but they’re making minor inputs at speed, not the full rotations necessary to make tight turns on the street or in parking lots when moving slowly.
There aren’t any production cars that come from the factory with yokes, instead of steering wheels. Will there ever be? Who knows? With the coming carpocalypse of driverless cars, steering wheels may disappear entirely before a single yoke gets approved by the Department of Transportation.