(Bloomberg) –Last week I wrote about the best and worst cars I drove in 2019. Call it the good, the bad, and the ugly.
For 2020 there’s one vehicle in particular I can’t wait to get my hands on: the Cybertruck. (Although production officially starts in 2021, I should have a crack at it, at least in prototype mode, by the end of 2020 if Tesla runs a schedule similar to that of other automakers. It’s cutting it close, but I’ll take my chances.)
Depending on your angle, the Cybertruck is a design disaster made from cheap metal sheets pounded together into a four-wheel ice pick stuck right in your eye, or it’s a slick marketing scheme that earns Tesla Inc. millions of dollars by way of each $100 deposit required to reserve one. The truck won’t see the light of day, this point of view goes—it’s just the latest promise from a company with a history of sporadic delivery on promises.
I disagree on both points. Tesla founder Elon Musk announced on Nov. 24 that he’d taken more than 200,000 deposits for the Cybertruck. At $100 each, that’s $20 million—plenty of cash, but not enough to significantly alter a company that, as of the market close on Dec. 26, is valued at almost $78 billion, third in the industry behind only Volkswagen AG and Toyota Motor Corp.
Meanwhile, in November, new-car registrations for Teslas in China, the world’s biggest electric vehicle market, jumped fourteenfold, to 5,597, from the same period a year earlier, according to state-backed China Automotive Information Net. The increase happened while sales for all other electric vehicles in China dropped over the same period. Musk doesn’t need a scheme to make a quick buck; he’s never been short of brand faithful the world over who buy his products as quickly as he can make them.
More important, if you know anything about Musk, you know he believes what he says, even if the result doesn’t always happen on schedule, whether it’s the first Tesla Roadsters, the hyperloop rapid transit system, or colonizing Mars. I spent six months in 2012 writing a cover story about him, and my impression was that it’s frustrating for him when others fail to embrace and accelerate these plans for saving the planet as easily, and as passionately, as he does. It’s where much of the perception of his alleged arrogance comes from—he can’t imagine how the rest of us don’t see it all as clearly as he does. Musk is many things, but he’s not a con man.
More exciting: The Cybertruck is exciting! That’s not so common in today’s auto market. In 2019 we saw so many bulbous SUVs, appliance-shaped sedans, and out-of-reach supercars that, even for me, they started to blur together.
This enthusiasm is also coming from outside the usual automotive ranks. Surely, as you scrolled through Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok last month, you saw the Cybertruck parked under starchitect houses and made into cartoons and gifs. I have lifelong New York friends placing deposits on it.
The Cybertruck comes by way of its jarring looks honestly. It feels like a descendant of the wedge cars from the 1960s and 1970s—the flatbed version of the Lotus Esprit, BMW M1, Lancia Stratos, Ferrari PF Modulo, DeLorean, and Lamborghini Countach. Those design icons transcended the car world and became pop culture. They dominated fashion editorials and were immortalized in Hollywood blockbusters. When it finally hits the road, the Cybertruck should do the same.
The Future of Trucks
On a broader scale, the success or failure of Tesla’s first electric pickup will indicate the future of the truck industry as a whole.
Light-truck sales in general in the U.S. rose 7.7% in 2018, to a record 11.98 million units sold, according to the Automotive News Data Center. For the past 35 years, the bestselling vehicle in the U.S. has been the Ford F-Series pickup truck. It’s outsold Toyota Camrys, Honda Accords, and even the ubiquitous, Uber-friendly Toyota Prius.
Further, the evolution of the truck has followed the evolution of the American consumer. As an increasing number of Americans bought trucks for more than just farming and ranch work, trucks became more luxurious and expensive. Now you can buy a rolling-office quad cab, with leather heated seats and an entertainment system befitting a town car. It will cost you mid-six figures. Soon you’ll even be able to buy a hybrid F-150.
We have a few brands testing this unchartered terrain: Rivian will debut its $69,000-or-so R1T in late 2020, and Bollinger’s $125,000 B2 will be out in 2021. But if it comes to pass, the Cybertruck can be the first to tell us plenty. I can’t wait.