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One week after its reveal, I’m not sure there’s much left to be said about Tesla’s first foray into the truck world. The specs are obviously impressive, and the design has mixed reviews with the predictable players taking their predictable positions. I hadn’t planned on talking much about Cybertruck in my weekly newsletter column since, at this point, literally everyone with something to say about it has done just that. But something has been bothering me about the discussion.
I don’t like the divide the Cybertruck’s design is creating, and I don’t blame Elon Musk or Tesla. I blame the part of the Tesla fan base that is responding very poorly to criticism of a product that was expected to draw that very same criticism.
On one end, there’s the steady Tesla crowd ready to buy anything the company produces that their budget can afford. On the other end, there’s the average consumer who is paying attention to what’s going on in the green car movement and imagining how one of the latest electric cars would fit their life and style. After all, the decision to buy a car has numerous factors (literally) driving it, and an electric car has even more factors built-in thanks to the fact that the industry is still new. For example, home charging isn’t an option for a lot of people, and filling up is already a chore when it takes 5 minutes, much less 30+ minutes at a Supercharger. There would need to be several reasons for the average consumer (read: someone that’s not part of the Tesla fan base or electric car crowd) to make the decision to buy one.
That being said, if someone doesn’t like Cybertruck’s design, they’re not going to want to buy it unless there’s literally no other vehicle that meets their needs and wants with a more appealing design. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with their opinion. It doesn’t mean they’re a boring person that’s part of a dying culture that will cease to exist in 50 years. It doesn’t mean Tesla will fail at their mission because its radical truck design doesn’t appeal to people that aren’t into radical truck designs. It just means that they don’t like it. Frankly, I don’t like it, either. I also didn’t expect to like it. I also expected to maybe like it but not want to ever buy it.
The Cybertruck isn’t just about thinking “outside the box” by creating a truck that looks like an odd box. It has a design that says something about the personality of the owner, and unlike a lot of conventional car designs, its message is overwhelming and distracting. If that’s your personality, great. If it’s not, great. Pushing this idea that if you don’t like the Cybertruck, or rather, you don’t like dystopian science fiction from the 80s and 90s, there’s something wrong with you… It’s feeding into a stereotype about electric cars that is annoying if not outright rude, dismissive, and very unhelpful for the green car movement.
Actually, what it starts to do is remind people (like me) of this long-term dystopian vision that they really really really don’t want that tech people are always pushing for as “cool” or “the unavoidable future.” Elon Musk might watch Blade Runner and love the designs it inspires, but I watch that movie and shudder to think of such an awful world to exist in. It’s one thing to like the artistic side of science fiction, but there are big glaring warnings about the worlds it represents. In Total Recall, for example, many like the whole Mars colonization thing it’s based on, but the back story is this company using mind control and manipulation while causing God-awful deformities in the people living there. Instead of focusing on that part, we wear shirts with “Get Your Ass to Mars” as a rallying cry for a mission to the red planet.
The inspiration to live on other worlds is something I love. What I don’t love is pushing the whole movie as the ideal future. That’s what I see in Cybertruck. I like it as a cool, movie-inspired design that will appeal to people who really like that style. I don’t like it as a representation of a full-on future that I have to like or I’m an idiot or a hater. In my opinion, throwing those types of stones at people who don’t like Cybertruck’s design feeds into the notion that if you’re not on board with the dystopian world it was inspired by, you have no place in the world’s future.
I like the Victorian touches of the mid-century A-frame I’m building, and the micro-controller watering and monitoring system I’m working on that will help with my gardening fuse the traditional with the new. I still don’t see a place for an angular, military-style truck in my driveway. It’s not my thing, and I really hope it stays as just a thing that some people like and not representative of a future that will dismantle my farm dreams in favor of robots vs. humans defending their right to live. Sheesh.
That’s one perspective the (typed) shouting matches about Cybertruck push. Another one is full of eye rolls and comments about Kool-Aid drinking. I honestly thought the point of the design was probably that Musk finally had the opportunity to do a vehicle that he knew would have a small market appeal but did it anyway because he just wanted to do it. He’d already done conventionally in the Model S, 3, and Y, pushed the limits a bit with the X and Semi, and was working on a sports car masterpiece with the next-gen Roadster.
I didn’t think that Cybertruck was supposed to upend Ford’s or Chevy’s or Toyota’s hold on pickups, so when that argument started making the rounds and doubters shouted down… I was surprised. If there’s one way to be seen as a “Tesla bro” or not be taken seriously by the very consumers you’re trying to win over, that’s it. Also, 250k people putting down $100 on a truck that they don’t have to fork over the full cash to buy for at least another couple of years doesn’t prove that the design is a mainstream hit, either. It’s an encouraging sign for sure, but not as encouraging as the 350k Model 3 reservations in that same one-week timeframe that required $1,000 to make.
In summary, the Cybertruck might win people over in the mainstream, and it might not. The specs combined with the gas savings might pull in commercial customers and start a new movement in that direction on a design level. It also might not. Tesla could just revise its design a bit while keeping the specs and appeal to a much broader base (which I’m hoping for), but it still might not.
Perhaps yelling at people that don’t like it that they’re dumb and have no taste might win them over eventually. It also might not. Being obnoxious about the Cybertruck to people on the fence about electric cars might cull a new consumer base.
But again, it might not.