Cybertruck history from the Elon Musk biography

The Cybertruck is officially launched. I wrote about this product in 2019:

With today’s Teslas, one expects the driver to emerge and deliver a lecture on climate change, the merits of Elizabeth Warren, unions (except at Tesla itself), and a larger government, etc. What would the image be of someone who drives what looks like a high school kid’s first SolidWorks project?

How did they pick the name? This is for people who used to say “I’m using the Interweb”?

How are they going to deliver this car at $40-50k profitably? Isn’t stainless steel expensive?

(The announced 2023 base price is 61,000 Bidies; it is fair to say that this is the same or less than 50,000 2019 dollars?)

What does the Elon Musk book describe? A 2018 design session:

The Chevy Silverado was still on the showroom floor for reference. In front of it were three large display boards with pictures of a wide variety of vehicles, including ones from video games and sci-fi movies. They ranged from retro to futuristic, sleek to jagged, curvaceous to jarring. With his hands casually in his pockets, von Holzhausen had the easygoing and loose-limbed manner of a surfer looking for the right wave. Musk, arms akimbo, was coiled like a bear searching for prey. After a while, Dave Morris and then a few other designers wandered in. As he looked at the pictures on the display boards, Musk gravitated to the ones that had a futuristic, cyber look. They had recently settled on the design for the Model Y, a crossover version of the Model 3, and Musk had been talked out of some of his more radical and unconventional suggestions. Having played it safe with the Model Y, he did not want that to happen with the design of the pickup truck. “Let’s be bold,” he said. “Let’s surprise people.”

Every time someone would point to a picture that was more conventional, Musk would push back and point to the car from the video game Halo or in the trailer for the forthcoming game Cyberpunk 2077 or from Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner. His son Saxon, who is autistic, had recently asked an offbeat question that resonated: “Why doesn’t the future look like the future?” Musk would quote Saxon’s question repeatedly. As he said to the design team that Friday, “I want the future to look like the future.” There were a few dissenting voices suggesting that something too futuristic would not sell. After all, this was a pickup truck. “I don’t care if no one buys it,” he said at the end of the session. “We’re not doing a traditional boring truck. We can always do that later. I want to build something that’s cool. Like, don’t resist me.”

(maybe Musk was right on the highlighted point; Ford and GM are selling traditional-looking electric pickups and demand is weak)

What did the in-house design nerds think in 2019?

When Musk walked in the door leading from the SpaceX factory, his reaction was instantaneous. “That’s it!” he exclaimed. “I love it. We are doing that. Yes, this is what we are going to do! Yes, okay, done.” It became known as the Cybertruck. “A majority of people in this studio hated it,” says von Holzhausen. “They were like, ‘You can’t be serious.’ They didn’t want to have anything to do with it. It was just too weird.” Some of the engineers started working secretly on an alternative version. Von Holzhausen, who is as gentle as Musk is brusque, spent time listening carefully to their concerns. “If you don’t have buy-in from the people around you, it’s hard to get things done,” he says. Musk was less patient. When some designers pushed him to at least do some market testing, Musk replied, “I don’t do focus groups.”

An Australian hater:

19 thoughts on “Cybertruck history from the Elon Musk biography

  1. Pretty common theme these days for the internet to say a 50% price increase doesn’t exist because it’s just inflation. The internet is now responding to inflation by buying more. It was different during our last wave of inflation, 20 years ago. Back then, the internet was screaming bloody murder over $3 gas & $200,000 houses. They were cutting back.

    • internet buys more because it believes there will be more inflation. My 20 – years old monthly mortgage would be probably smaller the Cybertruck lease, is one quarter of monthly rental payment for two walk-in closet size one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan and about half of monthly rental of 2 bedroom apartment out in the boonies. Thankfully back than I did not follow Philip’s advise and rented for side-ways mobility to satisfy needs of Hamas – loving large corporations headquartered in Ireland

  2. My prediction is this vehicle will be seen as another of Elon’s follies.

    – Most people dislike the design today
    – While novel now, it will be look dated in no time
    – The heavy panels make the car difficult to make, which creates quality problems and reduces their production capability
    – Who is the target market for this? Not truck owners. Not the tech crowd. Not trendy people. I’m guessing frustrated suburban dads with bad taste.
    – Who needs the heavy steel panels? Bullet-proof doors but not bullet-proof windows?
    – What happens to the company’s image when this starts being used a vehicle of choice of criminals?
    – Who is going to make good use of this kinda-small pickup space?

    • What’s your prediction for how many they sell? As a reference, they currently build and sell 1.3 million cars per year worldwide and sold about 355,000 last year in the U.S. I’m going to guess that the non-US market for this is negligible. About 120,000 Pontiac Azteks were sold at about $22,000 in pre-Biden money. The U.S. is richer and dumber than it was 20 years ago (see ). The population has grown by more than 50 million since the Aztek was introduced. So… I will guess 400,000 Cybertrucks get sold (there are 1.9 million deposits) during the first 5 years of real production (let’s say that starts in 2025).

    • Hard to make a prediction, but I’ll say this:

      I heard that working with the panels is very difficult, and will reduce production capacity. And how many people want/need a bulletproof door? If they dropped that requirement, they could make more and sell more.

      A different design would appeal to more people.

      So my not-satisfying answer is: They’ll sell far fewer than they would with a different design

      I would not be surprised if a v2 is introduced in 18 months that has: a curved body and a “new nimble, light-weight design”.

      But I agree: for someone driving a 2005 Pontiac Aztek, the cybertruck might be an upgrade.

    • The panels *were* hard to make; Tesla’s engineers figured it out, admittedly at point of a gun. It involved metallurgy and a predictive overforming process that anticipates bounce-back. Remember the Gigapress? Elon said to make the whole chassis in one pressing. “Can’t be done.” “Do it.,” A mid range Italian press company decided to take a shot, made a custom press, and now they have a market selling it to several other companies.

      The “heavy” steel its structural and frees up interior space. Have you seen the crass crash tests? This allows competitive interior space and a bed comparable to other five-seater big pickups; remember, the nose is really short and you’re sitting over the front tires, so you get to use that space saved for the bed. And the truck is not overly heavy despite the steel body. SpaceX did this with Starship by making the steel variable in thickness to get just enough strength at each spot.

      You’re right about the market, not primarily people looking for working trucks, but that’s true for most pickup buyers. Surveys show that few pickup owners have used the bed in the prior twelve months.

      At any rate, even if sales flop Elon forced his people to make several technological, engineering, and materials science advances that Tesla and its competitors will use going forward. This guy, whatever his flaws, is really quite exciting.

    • Candyman: Walter Isaacson, the former CEO at CNN and the author of the book, makes a big deal out of the body being structural. But isn’t that true of almost all cars and SUVs? Unibody construction became “common” in the 1960s according to

      How is the Cybertruck unibody different than a Toyota ‘s unibody? says “In monocoque structures, as with exoskeletal insects, the skin is structural, bearing tension and compression loads.” But is the Cybertruck closer to monocoque than a Camry?

      says it is not just vanilla unibody, but I can’t figure out the reason.

    • Sure, it’s more “cab forward”. You still aren’t sitting over the front wheels.

      “Cap forward” appears to be mostly moving the base of the front windshield forward (reducing the windshield slope). It adds “more space” to the cabin but it’s not space occupied by people (look at the steering wheels in the comparison images).

  3. “Ford and GM are selling traditional-looking electric pickups and demand is weak”

    This statement doesn’t make sense. For 2022, the top 3 selling vehicles in the US are all traditional, full size trucks from each of 3 different manufacturers. I believe it’s been like this for decades. Perhaps demand for full size trucks is on the decline, but it is not weak.

    • SP: check the euphemism for “falling demand” below (“evolving demand”)…

      Automotive News reports that a General Motors spokesperson said on Tuesday that the start of Chevrolet Silverado EV and GMC Sierra EV production at the site will be postponed until late 2025. It means almost two years of zero production.

      The company explains that the decision is not related to the ongoing UAW strike, but instead linked to a few other reasons, like “electric vehicle demand…the need for engineering upgrades” to boost profitability of the vehicles and “to better manage capital investment while aligning with evolving EV demand.”

      is paywalled, but it starts out with “a sharp drop in sales of its F-150 Lightning has forced Ford to throttle back production of its flagship EV pickup”

    • I stand corrected, I failed to notice the word “electric.”

      I do think the point I was trying to make holds. Demand for traditional looking trucks is extremely high. I think it’s safe to say that for electric truck sales, traditional aesthetics probably isn’t the issue holding back demand. Musk’s instincts on this may be exactly wrong: building an electric truck, for which demand is low, and making it radical looking which only further decreases demand. I’ve seen this phenomenon before, where folks who have a winning formula desire to risk success for the sake of doing something “different.” The Model Y is a winner, Musk should have listened to the folks who designed that.

      Even the Tesla fans think the Cybertruck is ugly.

    • the “ugly” part is why I picked the Pontiac Aztek as a base data point. That shows that ugly can actually be a selling point as long as it is “ugly: different” rather than just “ugly: ugly”. People do buy cars in order to stand out. The Hummer H1 was an absurd car for civilian ownership, but a friend bought one anyway! People paid huge $$ to be first on the block with the new Ford Bronco (kind of ugly for a street vehicle!). After Tesla has sold a few hundred thousand, it won’t be possible to stand out via ownership anymore.

    • I do not see Cybertruck as ugly. I could buy it but I am not ready to spend $70,000 K for a pick-up truck, I buy only 4 wheel drive versions, and buy them at around $50,000 k mark. I guess 250 miles is enough for local driving / occasional long trip. Presumably I could spend an hour or two per week at a supercharger drinking coffee and doing something remote.
      I see how businesses could benefit buying 2WD version for around $50K and charge it once per day.

  4. @pdfphilg: “That shows that ugly can actually be a selling point as long as it is “ugly: different” rather than just “ugly: ugly”.

    [The VW Thing was] only sold in the USA in 1973 and 1974 with a total production of 28,930 Things sold in the USA. The 1975 model was prohibited by the U.S. government as they could not meet crash testing standards for “passenger

  5. I was just thinking about Cybertruck and realized that it’s not a truck, but a SUV. It doesn’t have bed, but does have a trunk. (Model X is kinda a minivan, not a SUV)

    When you start thinking about Cybertruck like this it all starts to make sense and it’s clear who is going to buy it.

    My place in line is 140000, I’m not sure I would even want it when it gets to me. I would have gotten it 3 years ago for sure.

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