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

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
opinion teslas cybertruck will be companys first flop

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]

Join the conversation
2 of 98 comments
  • Roader Roader on Jul 16, 2021

    There will considerable demand from corporations anxious to display their eco-virtue, at least initially. Power companies looking to burnish their green bona fides and, hopefully, sell more electricity. Others that need to keep the greens buying their product, people who will never own a pickup truck (or maybe not a motor vehicle at all). Nothing wrong with that. It's just smart marketing.

  • 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.

  • SCE to AUX The solid state battery is vaporware.As for software-limited pack capacity: Batteries are obviously the most expensive component of an EV, so on the rare occasion that pack capacity is dramatically limited (as in your 6-year-old example), it's because economies of scale briefly made sense at the time.Mfrs are not in the habit of overbuilding pack capacity just for fun, and then charging the customer less.Since then, pack capacities have been slightly increased via software because the mfr decides they can sacrifice a little bit of the normal safety/wear margin in the interest of range. We're talking single-digit percentages, not the 60/75 kWh jump in your example.Every pack has maybe 10% margin built into it, so eating into that today (via range increases) means it's not available to make up for battery degradation tomorrow. My 4-year-old EV still has its original range(s) and 100% SOH, but that's surely because it is slowly consuming the margin built into the pack.@Matt Posky: Not everything is a conspiracy to get your credit card account, and the lengthy editorial about this has nothing to do with solid state batteries.
  • JLGOLDEN In order for this total newcomer to grab and hold attention in the US market, the products MUST be an exceptional value. Not many people will pay name-brand money for the pretty mystery. I can appreciate the ambition of selling $50K+ crossovers, but I think they will go farther with their $30K-$40K offerings.
  • Dukeisduke They're where Tesla was when it started - a complete unknown. I haven't heard anything about a dealer network. How are they going to sell these? Direct like Tesla? Franchises picked up by existing new car dealers?
  • Master Baiter As I approach retirement, and watch my IRA and 401K account balances dwindle, I have less and less interest in $150K vehicles.
  • Azfelix With a name that sounds like a bad Google translation, problems appear to permeate every aspect of the company. I suggest a more aggressive advertising campaign during The Super Terrific Happy Hour show to turn things around.