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Grotesque show: Almost 1500 days ago, Elon Musk unveiled Tesla's Cybertruck. The first units are now being delivered.

Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu / picture alliance / AP Images

On November 21, 2019, grotesque scenes unfolded in Los Angeles. At the presentation of the new Cybertruck, Tesla's chief designer Franz von Holzhausen (55) maltreated the driver's door with a sledgehammer and threw a tennis ball-sized steel ball at one of the window panes. The steel body escaped without a dent, but the supposedly bulletproof window draws a large, cracked spider web pattern. They had previously been pelted with various objects, why the window was shattering right now, he did not know, joked Tesla CEO Elon Musk (51) - and promised improvement.

Almost 1500 days later, the vehicle will become reality: Ten Tesla fans who will receive their futuristic electric pick-up at the gigafactory in Texas on the night of Thursday to Friday Central European Time will hardly ask themselves the question of sense or nonsense. Rather, they are likely to enjoy the moment, in the elitist awareness that they have acquired a vehicle that could remain exotic on the streets of the United States.

On the one hand, the price could become an obstacle for the Cybertruck: Experts expect Tesla to significantly increase the once rumored amounts of 49,900 US dollars (45,500 euros) for the base version and 69,900 US dollars for the top version. One possible indication: The carmaker had removed all prices from its homepage in October 2021 and had not yet published any new ones. Then, in 2022, Tesla closed the reservation lists for the Cybertruck – after reportedly 1.8 million pre-orders. They wanted to avoid excessively long delivery times, they said. At that time, the originally planned start of production was already about a year ago. In a tweet, Musk had also emphasized that there would only be the top model with several engines at the market launch. The Cybertruck, which is up to 5.86 meters long and weighs a good 3.6 tons, could therefore remain a toy for the rich for quite some time, observers suspect.

Now Cybertruck production is finally set to pick up speed. Musk is late to the game, because the competing models such as the Ford F-150 Lightning, Rivian R1T or even the GMC Hummer EV pick-up have long been represented in the popular market segment in the USA and are selling very well.

Musk himself dampened expectations in mid-October: "We have dug our own grave with the Cybertruck," he told analysts, referring to the complexity of the vehicle. The vehicle, which looks like a lunar vehicle with its triangular roof, is equipped with "a lot of bells and whistles". In the case of special products that "only occasionally come onto the market", it is "simply incredibly difficult" to produce them in large quantities and thus be successful.

This is alarmingly reminiscent of the elaborately elaborated and intricately designed Model X, which enchanted its owners with gullwing doors and partly floating rear seats at the market launch in 2015. With "a lot of bells and whistles", as Musk emphasized in retrospect two years later at the start of production of the Model 3. The Model X did not achieve high volumes. This is one of the reasons why Tesla deliberately adhered to the principle of simplicity in design and production for the bread-and-butter Model 3 electric car and later also for the Model Y. This is how the breakthrough to become a mass manufacturer and the world's most valuable car manufacturer was finally achieved.

Is Musk now possibly repeating the "mistakes" of the Model X with the Cybertruck? In any case, the industrial logic is not so easy for experts to understand.

"The problems that are evident with the Cybertruck are problems with the concept itself," Bloomberg quotes Eric Noble as saying. "The market didn't ask for a stainless steel finish, a crazy bed configuration, a crazy roofline or a crazy side view. These are all answers to a question that the pickup market has not asked," criticizes the president of The CarLab, a consulting firm for automotive products and automotive design. In Europe, the sharp-edged Cybertruck, for which apparently no crumple zone is provided, is unlikely to be admitted anyway because of the stricter safety and crash regulations.

The Problem with the Stainless Steel Dress

Experts see a central reason for the production start, which has been delayed by years, in the decision to clad the Cybertruck with an ultra-hard stainless steel alloy, which Musk allegedly also uses for the "Starship" launch vehicle of his space company SpaceX. Stainless steel may look cool and is rust-resistant, but it is considered much more expensive and difficult to work with.

This apparently had fatal consequences for the first sighted pre-series Cybertrucks: Photos were reportedly circulating on social networks showing cars with massively protruding parts, the deviating gap dimensions were visible even to untrained eyes.

Another possible stumbling block: Tesla announced that it would use an 800-volt architecture for the Cybertruck – a first in the Tesla electric car family. In the Porsche Taycan or the Ioniq 5 from Hyundai, such a system is used so that the vehicles can absorb electricity more quickly. However, the change is not trivial and is associated with risks. Musk himself initially gave the system "little benefits and high costs" in an analyst call, but still considered a change to be sensible in the long run. "But it really takes a very large volume of vehicles to cover the cost of switching from 400 to 800 volts," he added, according to Bloomberg.

Costly conversion to an 800-volt system

Too large quantities are not to be expected, at least for the Cybertruck. The Tesla CEO described around 250,000 electric pickups annually as a "reasonable estimate" – but not until 2025 at the earliest. But even then, the volume covers only a fraction of the alleged 1.8 million reservations and is light years away from the volume of other Tesla models.

Not only the price, but also the battery is considered by experts to be decisive for the market success of the Cybertruck. If, as communicated, it remains at a maximum payload of more than one tonne and a tractive force of five tonnes, the vehicle will need extremely powerful batteries. The range can quickly be halved when transporting heavy loads at highway speeds. Less than 300 miles (480 kilometers) of reliable range is no longer acceptable to Americans even with conventional electric cars, recent studies show. According to what is known so far, the Cybertruck should only be able to travel up to 800 kilometers on paper in its top variant.

How difficult Tesla is in the search for more powerful batteries is also shown by the Semi electric truck. Announced in 2017 as an entry into the commercial transportation industry, Tesla delivered its first electric truck in December 2022. According to an analyst report by Deutsche Bank in mid-November, the Semi is still produced in small quantities and only for PepsiCo in the USA. In August, Pepsi's strategy director, Amanda DeVoe, explained in a video that the company was using 21 semis — 18 for trips up to 100 miles and three for transportation distances between 250 and 450 miles.

The "semi" electric heavy-duty truck is, of course, a different category than the Cybertruck. But expectations are also high for Tesla's first pick-up as a commercial vehicle. Musk and co. would have to prove that the Cybertruck has the right functionality, says Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at Edmunds. In addition, many customers find the design too eye-catching. The expert therefore believes that Tesla is facing the most difficult market launch in its history with the Cybertruck. "Initially, the Cybertruck will sell very well because it will be well received by some buyers, but not by the mass market. That's where the problem lies."

According to Bloomberg, existing Tesla fans would be the main target group for the purchase of a Cybertruck. Of the 3500,37 Tesla owners surveyed by Bloomberg who are considering buying a new car in the next two years and don't own a pickup truck, about <> percent are considering a Cybertruck. However, this clientele alone is unlikely to be sufficient for a deep market penetration.

Analyst recommends discontinuing the Cybertruck

Analyst Philippe Houchois of Jeffries even went so far as to recommend the discontinuation of the Cybertruck a few days before the event in Texas. "Since 2024 is already a lost year of growth, it would help Tesla refocus on a lead based on simplicity, scalability, and speed." Elon Musk acknowledged the advice on X (formerly Twitter) with a clown emoji.

When asked during a conference call last month how many Cybertruck deliveries he expected for the coming year, Musk just waved it off. "If you want to do something radical and innovative and something really special like the Cybertruck, it's extremely difficult because there's nothing to copy," he said. Not only do we have to "reinvent" the car, but also the way it is built. "The more uncharted territory you enter, the less predictable the outcome." According to Musk, Tesla is not likely to make profits with the Cybertruck until 2025 at the earliest.