Tesla unveils curiously bad CyberTruck that’s incredibly popular

Obviously my opinion about the Tesla Cybertruck is missing something that a lot of people are seeing. I think the Cybertruck is a stupid design that will not appeal to the people we need to switch from gasoline and diesel pickup trucks. But the level of excitement over the Cybertruck feels a lot like the excitement over the Tesla Model 3. Therefore it seems likely Tesla will sell a lot of Cybertrucks, even though it is nearly useless for the primary users of pickup trucks.

My response to the Cybertruck isn’t based on its obvious ugliness, but on the lack of utilitarian usefulness. Drive down any street in the USA and you’ll see lots of pickup trucks, but please notice something important. Many of them are customized with racks or toolboxes or any of a number of other specialized things required by folks using pickup trucks in their work. A very simple example is the ubiquitous “Topper” that converts a pickup truck into a pseudo camper, and also provides lockable security for stuff stored in the back of the truck. To pick one example that I’m personally familiar with:

Stereotypical tow truck built on a standard pickup truck

Nearly 30 years ago I worked as a tow truck driver for 3+ years. My father owned the towing company, and before his retirement he’d built that company into the largest towing company in Kentucky. The towing business was therefore important in our family and I have direct experience in this field.

Tow trucks of this ilk are built on a standard pickup truck, except the normal truck bed has been removed and replaced with the tow truck attachment. There are several companies selling the equipment to convert pickup trucks into tow trucks. And there are many more companies selling equipment for converting pickup trucks into other specialized truck. To that end, every pickup truck manufacturer has a program for certifying companies that customize trucks for specific purposes.

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It’s not just pickup trucks, but every other kind of truck.

In presenting the Cybertruck, Elon Musk mocked the normal pickup truck design that relies on a “body-on-frame”. That design obviously requires a weight/performance/utility tradeoff, as Musk said. When Elon Musk claimed that the “body and the bed” don’t do anything useful, that they’re just carried like a sack of potatoes, he totally misses the point of why pickup trucks are designed as they are.

On aircraft, as Musk said, there is a weight/strength gain by making the skin of the aircraft also perform as a stressed member. SpaceX uses this in its rocket designs, for example. Since the typical pickup truck doesn’t use this model, the truck body and truck bed do not help in the strength of the vehicle, and from Elon’s point of view that’s an inefficient use of materials.

However – consider the wide range of commercial pickup trucks, and other kinds of commercial trucks. All of them rely on the truck being built on a frame, and the ability to bolt customized equipment to that frame. The 3rd party manufacturers of equipment to customize pickup trucks rely on the truck bed being removable, and that the truck frame allows for bolting on specialized truck beds.

The Cybertruck design prevents the sort of customizability that is required by a very large number of commercial uses of pickup trucks.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

2 Comments

  1. In 2017 in the US, there were 17.25 million vehicles sold, and 2.8 million of those were mid-size and full-size pickups. There are plenty of sales to go around, even if a different truck work-section cannot be bolted on this first Cybertruck design.

    I am fascinated by the design / structure of the Cybertruck, which is apparently a confluence of three factors:
    1. It would be very hard to build a conventional full frame with a huge battery pack.
    2. SpaceX has mastered this remarkable SS alloy, which enables the so-call ex-skeleton structural design.
    3. The nature of the SS alloy precludes readily using conventional tool and die stamping and therefore shapes must essentially be formed simple planes.

    Benefits:
    1. Ease of manufacture.
    2. No paint.
    3. Apparently, the ability to withstand a hell of a lot of strain (hence the high tow and load capacities, and impact strength).

    Deficits: no frame to bolt stuff onto.

    The benefits, for the large majority of cases, outweigh the drawback.

    BTW: I bet a tow unit could fit in the bed.

  2. Pingback: GM’s Hummer jaw dropping electric pickup return a sign of shifting car industry – The Long Tail Pipe

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