It gives new meaning to “Ludicrous Mode.” That term, used by Tesla for the high-performance option on its various vehicles, could just as easily apply to the design of its new Cybertruck.
Let’s put it this way, Tesla styling has long been controversial. While the original Model S was an attractive vehicle, its sleek and sporty design enhancing the attributes of its first-ever long-range electric drivetrain, it was followed by the awkward and ungainly Model X SUV. And even the Model 3 sedan looks like Tesla stylists decided to stop before they had every detail worked out.
But what can one say about the Tesla Cybertruck that was unveiled during a splashy, Hollywood-style event on Thursday night? That it may be the single worst automotive design since the Pontiac Aztek? That it looks like something out of a bad 1980s sci-fi movie? That it has the shape of a doorstop on wheels? That it could have been the “Homer-mobile,” the horribly wrong design sketched out by patriarch Homer in the long-running TV series, the Simpsons?
Those are just some of the comments that are lighting up the Internet a day after the Cybertruck’s unveiling. And those may not be the worst. Sure, there are some folks really excited about a wedge design in which the only curves can be found in the form of its wheels, but an admittedly unscientific study of what’s going live on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook finds folks overwhelmingly appalled.
“Any kind of publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right,” P.T. Barnum famously said. And perhaps that fits well for Elon Musk, who brings a bit of the circus barker to his act as the modern-day Thomas Edison. But while most everyone seems to be spelling “Cybertruck” correctly, that should be small comfort to Musk and Tesla itself.
It certainly doesn’t help that countless members of the Twitterati are reposting the most embarrassing moment of the night. Chief designer Franz von Holzhausen intended to demonstrate the ruggedness of the new pickup by first slamming a sledgehammer into the driver’s door and then throw baseball-sized metal balls at the window. The door panel held up nicely. The window nearly shattered, however, as did the back one when Holzhausen tried it again.
“Oh, my fucking god,” the oft-controversial CEO blurted out as he realized that part of the debut had gone horribly wrong.
But that line is being repeated by many folks now as they try to make sense of the Cybertruck’s bizarre wedge shape. On the polite side, it picks up key design elements of an F-22 Raptor – and perhaps will make it difficult for the Cybertruck to be tracked by police radar when a driver decides to see if it really can hit 60 in under 3 seconds. But it also looks like a slightly flattened impression of the Pyramid of Giza.
There were high expectations leading up to the Cybertruck roll-out. Gene Munster, an analyst with Loup Ventures, told CNBC that the all-electric pickup would help make Tesla “a much bigger business,” one that could eventually be selling 20 million vehicles annually, with a 25% share of the growing, global EV market.
While it remains to be seen how consumers will respond once the Cybertruck comes to market sometime in 2021, investors aren’t buying into it, at least for now.
In the anticipation leading up to the pickup’s unveiling, Tesla stock soared as high as $360.04 on Thursday morning and held high for the rest of the regular trading session. Then the bottom fell out. Shares tumbled as low as $330.23 before rebounding slightly but, unless shareholders have an epiphany, Tesla seems on track for a nearly 6% fall for the day.
The reality is that the automaker doesn’t need to make everyone fall in love with Cybertruck. All battery-electric vehicles combined generate less than 2% of the U.S. market, and only slightly more in China, the world’s largest market for plug-based vehicles. But, even so, Tesla has long counted on the “cool” factor as a foundation for its business model. And if the initial reaction to Cybertruck is any indication, that won’t be there – despite the truck’s impressive performance and range stats and a starting price promised to be under $40,000.
Tesla’s truck is expected to go up against a variety of competitors, including new battery pickups from start-ups Rivian and Bollinger, as well as established automakers including General Motors and Ford, the latter Detroit company currently selling the country’s best-selling pickup, the F-Series – which also happens to be the best-selling vehicle overall.
Ironically, it was Ford that scored raves this week with the Los Angeles Auto Show debut of its new Mustang Mach-E, an all-electric SUV that will target the Model Y that Tesla also plans to bring out next year. True, some fans of the classic Mustang coupe are raging on Twitter, but the overall reception for the Mach-E suggests it could give Tesla a significant challenge when Model Y debuts,
Actually, that’s another reason why investors need worry about the California-based EV maker. It has a long history of missing both production and price targets. And it is now saddled with the fact that it is about to lose entirely the federal tax incentives that had buoyed up its sales.
Competition will be coming everywhere, with more products from automakers like Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen – among others – targeting every Tesla product – and filling in other market niches.
Thursday night’s embarrassing debut will likely soon be forgotten. But Tesla has to hope that potential buyers somehow warm to what one analyst is likening to a “National Guard truck.” That might not be easy. And a big misstep could create some serious, long-term problems for Tesla if it cools interest in the brand.