Four years ago, Tesla unveiled a prototype of its Cybertruck — an electric, angular, stainless steel vehicle that CEO Elon Musk envisioned as the futuristic successor to the classic American pickup — in an event that went viral for the wrong reasons.
During an attempt to show off the strength of the vehicle’s “Armor Glass,” Tesla’s chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen, lobbed a metal ball at a window said to be “unbreakable,” but shattered it. Trying the test on a different window at Musk’s encouragement, he broke that one too. Memes have haunted the tortured production cycle of the truck ever since.
Of course, the awkward demo didn’t do much to dampen enthusiasm from Tesla’s adoring fans, and the company is estimated to have racked up as many as 2 million preorders since then, with buyers putting down refundable deposits of $100 each to reserve their theoretical Cybertruck. Initially, they expected the vehicle to enter production in 2021. But, like Tesla’s continually postponed autonomous self-driving cars, that date has been pushed back several times: first to 2022, then to early 2023, and then to November. Finally, on Thursday afternoon, Tesla’s Gigafactory in Texas will host a “Cybertruck Delivery Event” to celebrate the first owners getting behind the wheel at last.
It’s still anyone’s guess what the actual event will entail. All the same, customers dreaming of a shiny Cybertruck in their driveway come Christmas are likely to be disappointed by an essentially meaningless PR spectacle. Having gritted their teeth and endured long years without a single update from Tesla (others, fed up with the lack of communication, took the deposit refund), they may even find out that the truck costs much more than originally announced: Tesla removed the $40,000 to $70,000 prices for three different configurations from its website back in 2021, without explanation, and some buyers who have been contacted about finalizing their orders have claimed that the cheapest model wasn’t available — while the higher-end one is now priced at close to $100,000 (before other fees and add-ons). Moreover, the truck has landed in a less welcoming market than the one it stirred up in 2019, as a number of direct competitors have emerged since then.
Other indications of looming disappointment come from Musk himself, who in an October earnings call for Tesla reportedly said, “We dug our own grave with the Cybertruck.” He was referring to the challenges of scaling up production, which could prevent the company from reaching its desired manufacturing efficiency until 2025 (another loose estimate you can take with a grain of salt). “The ramp is going to be extremely difficult, and there’s no way around that,” Musk told investors. It won’t help that Tesla is also behind on producing the battery cells the truck uses.
As for delivery of trucks that Tesla has made so far, well, the Mexican newspaper Milenio reported earlier this month that during a conference speech in Monterrey, product design director Javier Verdura said the Nov. 30 event would see them “deliver the first 10” Cybertrucks. That’s not much of a dent in the queue, and what’s more, these units would probably go to Tesla employees — as with the launch of previous models. It appears there are a few additional trucks on the factory grounds, though it’s possible these may just be for guests to test-drive.
Then there’s the truck itself. Thursday should see the release of specs on the finished models, but perhaps more importantly, as more Cybertrucks are released into the wild, the public will get a better sense of their practicality: how much actually fits in the truck bed, how far it can drive on a full charge, and how quickly its sleek reflective body is coated in fingerprints. There will also be more opportunities to examine the assembly up-close, and the choice of that steel exterior has led to serious problems with gaps and misalignments of panels — which lends an air of shoddiness. And it’s only after these things get on the road that we can have some understanding of how safe they are.
Musk has preferred to build Cybertruck hype, as he did in the infamous 2019 presentation, by testing its supposedly impervious exterior, in one case claiming to have riddled a model with bullets from a Thompson submachine gun, and on another occasion inviting podcaster pal Joe Rogan to fire a bow and arrow at the truck. Motorists not planning for some kind of Mad Max dystopia, however, are bound to be more interested in the basics, and going by a leaked Tesla report on basic design flaws in earlier Cybertrucks, any number of issues threaten to arise, from faulty braking or steering to excessive noise while driving. The unique, one-piece windshield wiper apparently leaves something to be desired. Photos of a truck being towed off a San Francisco street days ago for blocking a driveway, meanwhile, prompted discussion on whether it’s difficult to park.
Regardless, Tesla loyalists are duty-bound to see nothing but upside in Musk’s follies (including when he repeatedly yells “Go fuck yourself” at a New York Times business summit, as he did on Wednesday, regarding brands that have abandoned his increasingly toxic social media platform). The official Cybertruck debut turning out to be a dud — or a fiasco on par with the broken-windows incident — won’t keep them from posting triumphantly and pledging further patience as they await the arrival of an ill-conceived machine they might never own.
With everyone else, the reviews won’t be quite so forgiving.