Tesla’s Cybertruck caught many by surprise last week. I found myself laughing at the ungainly design when it first drove out onto the stage during the unveiling. There was no way anyone would buy something so ugly… or so I thought. Since then, like many people, the design has grown on me….and I actually quite like it. With 250k preorders just days after the launch, it is clear that Tesla has another hit on its hands. The Cybertruck breaks the mold in a great many ways, but the media has missed a key hint that Tesla quietly dropped on us that says a lot about the future of vehicles.
The Tesla Cybertruck is an engineering marvel but an aesthetic oddity. It is built from stainless steel, the same stainless steel that is being used on the SpaceX Starship rocket. Stainless steel was most famously used on the DeLorean in the late 1970s. It is a fantastic material, not least of which because it doesn’t rust or corrode. The car itself it made from simple bent sheets of stainless, which makes construction extremely easy compared to most cars today that require armies of stamping machines and robotic welders. There are trade-offs, but the stainless steel design is tough, wont rust, and should be cheap and easy to build.
This bent stainless construction results in angular design aesthetic that is something that has not been seen in vehicles since the 1980s. Vehicles today are designed to have smooth flowing curves that improve aerodynamics and maximize fuel/battery efficiency. Prior to the Cybertruck, Tesla did everything it could to improve their vehicle’s aerodynamic performance, including developing door handles that sit flush with the vehicle’s body. The Cybertruck, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to bother itself very much with aerodynamics at all. There is no telling what the truck’s drag coefficient is, but I think its a fair bet that it is not nearly as optimized as Tesla’s prior vehicles. The significance of this cannot be understated. The Cybertruck subtly hints to us that Tesla expects that the cost of the batteries will fall enough such that they can afford a loss in aerodynamic efficiency.
Think about it another way. The Cybertruck will retail at a price very close to the SR+ Model 3, but the Cybertruck is a much…much bigger vehicle, and presumably much heavier, but still maintains equivalent range. The batteries in the Cybertruck will need to have much higher capacity than the Model 3, and yet Tesla still went with a design that does not seek to maximize aerodynamic efficiency and maximize battery usage. Instead, for the first time in the history of electric vehicles, the cost savings on the frame of the vehicle took precedence over the cost of adding more cells to the battery. This is a subtle hint to the rest of the industry that Tesla is far ahead in battery technology. Tesla is quietly telling us that battery cost is no longer a limiting constraint on vehicle design. Expect more unique designs from Tesla in the future.