Opinion: Tesla's Cybertruck Will Be Company's First Flop

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

Tesla’s Cybertruck is in the news again, thanks to some (on paper) comparisons between it and the Rivian R1T and news about a deal with Samsung for cameras for the truck.

I’ve been thinking this for quite some time — since the unveiling, really — and the more I see the truck in the news, the more I think it might be Tesla’s first true flop as a model.

We report critically on Tesla a lot around here, as we should — our job as journalists is to tell the truth and not cheerlead for any one company. This sometimes pisses off the Tesla stans, but it’s how the press is supposed to operate, and Telsa does plenty of things that deserve critical reporting. Some of what the company does also generates negative opinions from the pundit side of things.

But the flipside of that is that it’s also true that Tesla’s cars have generally been considered popular, and not just among the Tesla die-hards. It’s not hard to see why — though the company has all sorts of quality and service headaches, the cars themselves look good and have helped make EVs seem cool.

The Cybertruck, however, is a different story.

It looks like a one-off Hot Wheels toy come to life. You know the kind — those weird little toy cars that looked as if they’d be impossible to produce.

I still remember the launch in November 2019. It took place on the back end of press days for the Los Angeles Auto Show. We weren’t invited, and that’s fine — I was at dinner with another OEM anyway, the night before driving one of that company’s prototypes. During a lull in conversation at Spago in Beverly Hills, we journalists started checking our phones to see what Tesla was showing.

The reaction among the assembled media and PR folks was less than enthused.

I did try to give Tesla the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I’d change my mind. After all, Tesla took a risk with the design, and that’s to be commended. And some of those weird Hot Wheels were really cool! I wasn’t even sure if I found the truck ugly.

But it sure seemed like it wouldn’t be able to do what trucks are supposed to do, at least not well. It does have a bed and lockable storage, and the claimed towing numbers are impressive, but it seems like the Rivian, Ford F-150 Lightning, and the upcoming GMC Hummer will be more usable as trucks.

There will be those who buy the truck because they like its looks, or because they are Tesla fans, or because they want a future collectible, or whatever. And they won’t care if you think the Cybertruck is ugly, or if it can’t do “truck things” as well as Rivian or Lightning or Hummer can.

That said, I think once the initial wave of enthusiasm dies down, the Cybertruck will be outshone by the competition. Ram has an EV on the way, too, don’t forget. So that means the Detroit Three — who know trucks and how to sell them — will all have EVs available within the next few years. And Rivian’s truck also seems, on paper, to be more conventional — and more useful in terms of utility.

Update: Since this article went live, a few folks on Twitter have reminded me about the 1 million reservations for Cybertruck. I am aware of that number, but a) reservations don’t translate into sales and b) as I pointed out above, the truck might sell well off the bat. It could still end up being a flop even if sales are initially strong.

I could be wrong. That’s the danger of making a prediction. Somewhere out there exists a record of my NFL predictions from my time as a co-sports-editor of my college newspaper, and if I’d actually bet the games based on my picks, I’d be washing dishes at a casino right now.

That said, I think the Cybertruck just won’t sell well, and Tesla will soon find itself working on a more conventional electric pickup.

One that likely will move units en masse.

[Image: Tesla]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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  • Frankfan42 Frankfan42 on Jul 19, 2021

    You could well be right, the striking looks might not spell sales for the folks who buy based on "Image." Let's be honest, most people buy based on what they WANT not what they NEED. That said Tesla offers some pretty compelling reasons to consider their truck, starting with the rust resistant stainless stell construction. Some of us actually KEEP our vehicles until they rust through, which is not much over 12-15 years here in OH. Then there is the fact that Tesla has a huge head start over OEMs not with producing trucks, but cars that people actually buy. And more critically, that has allowed them to develop a charging infrastructure second to none in the USA. The charging infrastructure is a HUGE win for Tesla no matter how you look at it. The inevitable teething troubles from the beginning of the supercharger network are largely worked out now from what I hear from Tesla owners. (I don't own one) Plus price is a huge incentive, if Tesla can stick to their pricing model I think many will be tempted. Remember, a LOT of people who have bought Tesla cars might find the truck and inevitable SUV spinoff, pretty attractive. Finally the looks. Well it is polarizing, and electric vehicles don't NEED to resemble their ICE counterparts. The first automobiles were truly styled to look like "Horseless carriages" because of a lot of reasons, but they didn't stay that way did they? The appearance of the Cybertruck is largely the result of the construction methods, which from what I have read ARE inspired by hotwheels diecasting methods. The proof will be what consumers perceive as vallue to them. This will drive sales more than prognostications and is why Ford has huge hits with the Bronco and quite possibly the coming compact truck, Maverick. Just my two cents, I could be wrong, but we'll see in a few years.

  • Martin Nolan Martin Nolan on Jul 16, 2023

    It ain't gonna flop

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  • SCE to AUX Nice car for a nice price. I'd replace the headlights.
  • Fred Of course they will retaliate. Expect things to worse before they get better.
  • GBJT I think there are still non-turbo cars.
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