Tesla shatters expectations with Cybertruck unveiling

Futuristic electric pickup production slated for late 2021 as Tesla takes aim at lucrative U.S. pickup market.

(Bloomberg) — Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk took to the stage late Thursday to reprise a familiar role: pitching a future vehicle to a throng of adoring fans. This time, it was the “Cybertruck” — his name for Tesla’s new electric pickup.

The angular vehicle, which has a stainless-steel skin, starts at $39,900 and will come in three variants, Musk told a packed audience in Hawthorne, Calif. Customers can order the truck with a deposit of just $100, though production “nears in late 2021,” Tesla said on its website.

After a “Blade Runner”-inspired introduction, Musk had Tesla’s long-time chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen, smash the truck’s steel exterior with a sledgehammer, showing that it did not dent.

But it was the second demonstration, of “Tesla armor glass,” that was the real show stopper. 

Von Holzhausen took a metallic ball in his right hand, wound up and tossed it at the truck — smashing the front driver-side window, stunning the audience and viewers live streaming the event.

“Oh my f---ing god,” Musk said, when the window broke.

“Maybe that was a little too hard,” Musk said after the ball cracked the glass. So they tried again. A second test broke a second window.

Given how product launches are usually scripted and rehearsed, the broken windows were the evening’s big surprise.

“It’s classic Tesla. It’s poetic,” said analyst Gene Munster of Loup Ventures. “I applaud the company for taking risks; this was not a boring presentation. The broken glass was unpredictable. This wasn’t practiced.”

The event was shown on YouTube, with the video made private shortly after. 

“This obviously wasn’t a true production vehicle so Tesla gets a pass for now,” said Akshay Anand, executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “But if they are going to market the glass as a differentiator, they better be able to show stronger tests leading up to launch.”

Tesla shares fell as much as 3.2% to $343.55 pre-market in New York. The stock was up 6.6% this year through Thursday’s close.

The evening began with a slide show of standard pickup trucks throughout the years, and Musk’s vow to make something different that runs on sustainable energy.

“You want a truck that’s really tough, not fake tough,” Musk said, in what seemed to be a veiled swipe at Ford Motor Co.’s slogan. “A truck you can take a sledgehammer to that doesn’t dent.”

Tesla fans in the audience liked what they saw.

“It’s like something out of a movie set,” said Elizabeth Lepek of Marina del Rey, Calif., a current Tesla Model X owner who placed a $100 deposit for the Cybertruck. “It’s so futuristic. I like the design of it. There’s nothing quite like it on the road.”

But traditional truck buyers are a tougher audience and less likely to be impressed by Silicon Valley sizzle.

“It misses the core truck buyer,” Munster added. “A contractor is not going to show up to a work site in this truck. That said, Tesla will still sell some of them.”

The hashtag #cybertruck quickly began trending on Twitter as potential customers started sharing their views about the futuristic design — and the window snafu.

And though it will take a long time before the Cybertruck hits the streets, that’s something Tesla customers are used to. Musk unveiled a Semi truck two years ago, but that vehicle has yet to enter volume production.

The lucrative full-size pickup market in the U.S. is dominated by the Detroit 3: Ford Motor Co.’s F-150, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Ram 1500 and General Motors Co.’s Chevy Silverado. Japanese automakers have spent two decades and billions of dollars to get in on the gravy train, but U.S. brands still control almost 92% of the half-ton segment, according to IHS Markit.

“The design will be questioned, but over time the specs will help win over pickup loyalists,” said analyst Ben Kallo of Robert W. Baird. “But the volumes are expected to be low, and the Model 3 and Model Y continue to be the focus.”

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