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November 21, 2019. The night of the broken glass for Tesla Motors. We think it may be one of those strange seminal inflection points usually unrecognized at the time, but hailed in arrears as THE moment in time. On this night, Tesla Motors transitioned from challenger to the status quo automobile industry to DOMINANCE and heir apparent to the throne of the automobile industry.

Many anticipated a Tesla pickup truck model for many months after Tesla head Elon Musk alluded to it a couple of years ago. At the Q3 earnings call in 2019 he actually characterized it as the one project he was most personally excited about at Tesla. And finally, on November 21, with laser light shows and fog machines akimbo, they finally rolled out the Tesla CyberTruck – pickup truck from the future. The excitement among the crowd of Fanboyz on hand was palpable.

The vehicle rolled out on stage to gasps of astonishment, wails of angst, and tearful fanboyz tearing their hair out in horror. The immediate and universal reaction was that this could not BE the Tesla pickup truck – it was HORRIFICALLY UGLY. The hunchback of Notre Dame in a romantic closeup scene with elephant man. And several thousand attendees EYES WIDE with shock and disbelief.

But wait, there’s more. It gets better.

Franz Holzhauser stepped up to the plate and delivered several manly blows to the truck with a 12 lb sledge hammer. Not a dent in the gleaming 301 stainless steel side of the vehicle. A brief but bizarre demonstration of chrome balls sliding down a gerbil tube to bounce off of a glass science project. Demonstrating a new kind of windshield glass? And Franz heaving a 1 pound chromium ball into the drivers side glass window of the CyberTruck, shattering it catastrophically.

Mystified confusion descended on the room. Was this on purpose? An accident? Franz looked confused. Musk clearly furious. Do it again he orders.

Franz dutifully heaved it at the rear drivers side window with EXACTLY the same results, a pie pan sized bash in the window. “Well at least it didn’t go through” mugged Musk.

The remainder of the unveil was clearly hurried, rushed, and designed to get Elon Musk off stage and beyond the image of him framed by the two broken windows and the direct side-on view of the truck.

It was the ultimate wardrobe malfunction. Janet Jackson should have been on stage with Musk instead of the girl android/robot.

WHITHER THE PICKUP TRUCK

The U.S. automobile market for 2018 was up 0.3% from 2017 levels to 17,274,250 units. Truck and SUV sales for the full year were up 8.0% to 11,786,069 units, while passenger car sales were down 13.1% to 5,488,181 units for 2018. Tesla has thus far offered ONLY passenger cars with no SUV or truck available at all, with the possible exception of the $125k Model X.

Tesla Model Y, a crossover SUV, has been announced and hopefully available summer of 2020. But the remarkable thing about the U.S. automotive market is that THE TOP THREE sellers in 2018 were the big three pickup trucks. America is all about pickup trucks.

1. Ford F-Series – 909,330
2. Chevrolet Silverado – 585,581
3. Dodge Ram – 536,980

Together, just these THREE pickup trucks comprise 2,031,891 unit sales or 11.76% of the entire U.S. automotive market. The Ford F series has been the top selling passenger vehicle worldwide for nearly 40 years. The pickup truck market was UP about 2.1% in 2018.

Tesla produced 350,000 total cars in 2018 among three models – about 2% of the U.S market. But that’s about 6.4% of the PASSENGER CAR sales in the U.S. for 2018 which is actually a pretty impressive number little discussed.

The average price of a new full-size pickup truck checked in at $48,369. And so we see that just the numbers of the top 3 at that average price looks like sounds like a $98,280,535,779 market just for the top three trucks. That’s 98 BILLION with a B.

Assuming Tesla could knock down 10% of that, $9.8 billion per year in annual revenue. More implies better.

And Tesla already has that.  Musk has announced 200,000 orders as of November 24th, which is a smooth $10 BILLION in orders.  10% market share in the first 3 days after unveil.

In the weeks leading up to the Tesla CyberTruck unveil, we noted several announcements from other manufacturers that we can only interpret as pickup panic. Ford, which had earlier announced they were getting out of passenger cars entirely, suddenly rolled out the all electric Ford Mustang Mach E SUV. This was a comically derivative knockoff of the Tesla Model Y, and they noted an equally preposterous availability at the end of 2020, corresponding to the model Y. Despite similarities, it most likely features lower specifications at a higher price.

And while they had previously announced a $500 million investment in Rivian with their RT-1, Ford also announced just a few days before the November 21 rollout that they too were going to introduce a Ford F-150 all electric.

The DAY of the announcement, GM chimed in with their own press release regarding the electric Silverado, and would you believe, again available in 2021.

It would appear that Tesla has gained at least two big believers in their new CyberTruck, General Motors and Ford who are terrified at the prospect of losing any market share at all to the upstart.

In this episode, we of course make mirth at the Kristalnacht Wardrobe Malfunction and the even more hilarious reaction of the usual bevy of Tesla Fanboy YouTube Personages.

BUT….. we feel relatively safe in pronouncing CyberTruck the most brilliant thing Musk has ever done and the most brilliant design Holfhausen has ever issued. We think it will be ASTONISHINGLY successful. And we think so because the Tesloids have so accurately went for the jugular – hitting ALL the things that actually drive the desire to own a pickup – an almost entirely male sport.

We can enumerate this:

1. Toughness/durablity.
2. Power/Towing
3. Large spacious interior.
4. Off Road Capability.
6. Price

TOUGHNESS

It’s a bit of a male testosterone event, oddly mixed with a practical requirement. None of this is lost in pickup truck advertisements. All three leaders LEAD with this image in every single advertisement they fund. A truck should be tough and the Marlborough man should be tough and he belongs in a pickup truck.

All vehicles have an unnatural aspect in America in that they serve as an on-road avatar for the personality and image and ego of the driver. Actually and directly, part of our personal IDENTITY is wrapped up in what we drive. And pickups are tough and manly. And if you are tough and manly, obviously you drive a pickup truck – even if your day job is tax accountant or interior designer.

But as a practical matter, tough is also a factor. Truck owners tend to own their vehicles for longer periods and often they ARE used for construction work and in the trades and on the farm and in offroad situations. Since some of the larger more tricked out trucks can run $60-$80k, you don’t want to be squeamish about taking it offroad. But the gentle brush of a few branches and that stunning paint job turns to a scratched up mess. Not good. Fords move to ecofriendly aluminum bodies has been controversial. Steal is tougher.

Tesla keyed on this “toughness” thing and hit it out of the park. The oragami XY design using Ultrahardened 301 stainless represents a huge savings in the costs of manufacture, and of course total elimination of the paint shop. But it also produces a “finish” that you literally cannot mark with a sledge hammer. If something does somehow mark it, you can touch it up with a $1 piece of Scotchbrite at home. So offroading and brick hauling and lumber work just don’t pose the threat to the paint job that it did.

And despite the epic fail in the unveil, Musk’s ire will irrevocably lead to the toughest glass on planet, if it wasn’t prior to the event. The CyberTruck winds up with actually BEING a bulletproof vehicle, which feeds right into the whole Marlborough man image.

This goes to ANOTHER element onroad – intimidation. Few Hummer drivers ever got muscled out of their lane and indeed few people atually cut in in front of a Hummer. Who would have thought. Both in looks and design and build, the CyberTruck picks up where the H1 Hummer left off.

The current offerings of pickup trucks BEG the addition of all sorts of guards, brush guards and headlight guards and taillight guards and light bars.  All unnecessary with the CyberTruck.  You can’t bash out a headlight or a tail light as they have been replaced by a polymer resin lightbar that’s hard to hit anyway and if you do, it won’t do much damage.

The real basis for all this toughness is a manufacturing technique long hailed and predicted but rarely or never actually used.  XY design describes working on flat plate stainless steel with an X and Y axis NC machine to layout the design and prescore the folds – with the odd corner cutout if necessary.  This is then FOLDED into shape actually after the fashion of Japanese Oragami art.  Tack welding or seam welding the finished result is almost trivial.

And all of that eliminates stamping machines.  All car manufacturers tout their stamping machines as marvels as they accomplish all those compound curves in an  instant.  It IS a faster process than XY design. But the stamps and forms are horrifically expensive and they do not last as long as the man on the street thinks.  All that stretching and compressing and forming has the effect of very quickly wearing out the dies themselves and the resulting parts hold specification for a remarkably short period of time before the dies have to be replaced – again.

Eliminating this, along with the paint booth, knocks tens of thousands off the cost of the production of the car.  Which leads to another CyberTruck advantage, the base unit with the small battery and single motor is slated at $39,000.  This astonished the crowd who expected $49,995.  It will also panic the legacy OEMs.

We think this base trim will basically be powered by the Tesla Model S drive train and battery.  The Model S is a 4900 lb vehicle that can go 275 miles and 0-60 in less than 4 seconds.  Can it do 0-60 in 6.5 in a heavier CyberTruck and still get 250 miles – add a lead lead angle on the battery tech between now and 2021 – probably.

POWER/TOWING

The mid range trim at $49,995 features the Model 3 275HP rear wheel drive on the FRONT of the vehicle and the Model S unit on the rear.  Motor Trend estimates this at 690 HP and 824 foot-pounds of torque – available from 0 RPM.  The vehicle is rated for 10,000 lbs towing.

Electric vehicles are just better at towing than ICE vehicles because their torque is applicable across a wide RPM range. They typically make the same 824 ft lbs at 100 rpm as they do at 3500 rpm.  The large size of the vehicle combined with the usual low center of gravity from the low placement of the battery and obviously this vehicle can’t be tossed around by even extremely large multiaxle trailers.

So we think even at 10,000 lbs compared with an ICE truck of 10,000 lbs, you will find that Apples just don’t taste very much like oranges.  The CyberTruck will accelerate batter, maintain speed up hills better while pulling, and behave better in all respects on the road pulling the same trailer.

That said, it is well known that the MPG rating of all pickup trucks goes out the window once the boat is on back.  They can claim 16 on the sticker, but picture 6 with the big boat.  Similarly, the range of the electric CyberTruck will plummet in the face of the weight of the toy towed.

Speaking of which, the event did include some video of the CyberTruck in a tug of war with a Ford F-150

INTERIOR SPACE

The pickup market has been in a prolonged and pronounced shift toward ever larger more spacious “super” crew cabs with four doors.

But at the center of the very concept of the pickup truck is entry dimensions and interior space.  Some guys are just big.  Like 6 feet 4.  Or 300 pounds.  Or both.

It is actually rare to find a midsized or larger sedan they can’t sit in comfortably.  The problem is getting there.  Entering the car and getting out of the car can be an event for a large man and even shorter overweights such as myself prefer the Cadillac Escalade entry to the Model S.  The Model 3 believe it or not is just a smidge easier than the S.  But walking up to and into the Escalade is effortless.

And so many men select the pickup truck simply because of ease of entry and interior space.  The supersized Quarter Pounder and the Big Gulp hasn’t helped. But growing obesity in America is just a fact of life.  So XXX shirts and pickup trucks just go together.

The CyberTruck again put it OUT OF THE PARK on this one.  Six full sized seats.  A 75 inch roof peak.  And the center front seat folds down into the largest center console I’ve ever seen.  DOZENS of videos by fanboyz at the event receiving the 1 minute test ride made it very clear than anyone can get into any seat in the vehicle WITH camera gear without any strain at all.

OFF ROAD CAPABILITY

It doesn’t matter if you actually USE a truck to go offroad or not. You buy a 4×4 for whatever reason you like, snow, ice, or fantasy. But it has to actually BE an off road vehicle.

The CyberTruck excels to Hummer H1 levels. It features 35 x 12.5 inch off road tires and a full 16 inches of ground clearance. This is what the H1 had for clearance and compares RATHER favorably to the 9.6 inches of the F-150 4×4.

Better, it is reported that the battery and motors are shielded by a full shield covering the entire underneath of the truck.

Combined with the impervious non-paint job, this may be the most capable off-road truck in the world.

SUMMARY

On essentially every single reason we can think of why anyone would ever purchase a pickup truck, Tesla has hit this one out of the park and no matter how many times you run the replay, it’s still a home run.

What does it LOOK like? Well I’m not at all certain. Form does follow function and beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, but very much subject to revision under the “acquired taste” rubric. I didn’t like licorice, peat in Scotch, Guiness beer, mushrooms, liver and onions, root beer, and any number of other things that later became favorites after I became acclimated to them or “acquired” the taste for them.

The angular oregami shape is not initially appealing. But all the reasons for it are very much appealing. Lower cost. Higher durability. Safety. No paint. So my past experience is that it is a matter of time for that conflict to resolve itself internally to where I come to view it as the most beautiful design ever contrived. I can tell you that a scant three days has improved the look immensely for me.

But how much does fashion count in pickup trucks? Like “Honey, does this truck make my ass look fat?” You just don’t hear guys talk that way.

But eventually I believe it will be viewed as seminal and iconic. Indeed I would predict you won’t be able to shoot a successful movie in the future without rolling one through somewhere during the film and there may well be films done with it as the centerpiece.

One thing is certain, it has ALREADY garnered for Tesla an immense amount of unpaid exposure on all media everywhere.

His claim to genius remains unassailable, even in the face of broken glass and failed unveils.

I fully expect General Motors, Ford, Dodge, and probably VW to all start bashing the shit out of their windshields in response.

Jack Rickard