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Tesla’s Cybertruck: A Revolution or a Flop in the Electric Pickup Market?

The world’s first Cybertruck rolled off the Tesla production line in Texas amid palpable excitement, as enthusiastic employees surrounded the avant-garde electric pickup and rushed to commemorate the auspicious moment. After a series of delays, Tesla finally actualized a Cybertruck before announcing second-quarter results, pledging deliveries to expectant customers in the third quarter of this year.

Subverting stereotypes with its Blade Runner-esque science fiction aesthetic, the Cybertruck’s stainless steel body exudes an imposing, armored essence true to its name. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has proclaimed ambitions to produce 250,000-500,000 Cybertrucks annually – a feat which, if achieved expeditiously, would revolutionize the electric pickup market.

Frequently delayed aspirations now brought to fruition

As aspiring king of electric vehicles, Tesla has naturally not neglected the lucrative electric truck segment.

The Ford F-150 Lightning began production and delivered over 13,000 vehicles in 2022, while electric upstart Rivian, once considered a Tesla killer, also saw brisk sales of its pickup truck. Other titans like GM, Chevrolet, Geely, and Great Wall intensely prepare their electric truck offerings, many commanding leadership in the fuel pickup industry.

Conversely, Tesla’s truck endeavors have met obstacles. The Semi-truck has weathered serial delays, and despite now shipping, has been twice recalled amid doubts of its production viability. The Cybertruck today faces the same quandary. Compared to passenger EVs, electric pickups present distinct technological challenges, placing the latecoming Tesla at a disadvantage.

At a November 2019 Tesla event, a polygonal “armored box” attracted eyes. The Cybertruck’s first reveal unexpectedly capsized, as an iron ball shattered its touted unbreakable glass in a dramatic miscue.

Yet this mishap sparked feverish interest in the pickup, its slick aesthetic inspired by “The Spy Who Loved Me”. In days after the conference Cybertruck reservations surpassed 200,000, virality propelled by social media.

Many current reservation holders may wait years for delivery. With expectations reaching fever pitch, orders now eclipse 1.94 million. The $100 deposits alone garner Tesla $194 million, testing the production line’s enthusiasm. Even optimistic annual output of 500,000 means preordered vehicles could occupy Tesla for 4 years – long waits for customers.

Since announcement, delays and waiting have stalked Cybertruck. Initially slated for late 2021, factors including the pandemic and engineering forced postponements. Per Musk, the Cybertruck’s many unique parts and processes complicate manufacturing new models, but troubles have crested.

Some foreign media remain skeptical amid successive delays. Barron’s likened the Cybertruck to Ford’s failed 1958 Edsel, projecting a similar demise due to underwhelming reception. Wired cited a Tesla whistleblower report claiming as of January 2022 the Cybertruck lagged plans considerably, with crippling issues in core systems. The report deemed flaws possibly inherent to the engineering and design.

Former Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer concurred, stating the Cybertruck remains distant from objectives.

Integrated die casting enables radical design

The Cybertruck’s recurrent delays partly stem from its radical integrated body-on-frame design. Sharply angled and eschewing the muscularity of conventional American pickups, the Cybertruck’s form follows its stainless steel function. Its distinctive “cyber” visage comes at the cost of an exoskeleton integrated frame.

An industry veteran explained that combining the body and chassis enables a lighter vehicle with extended range, while the stainless shell disguises greater length.

To achieve this, the Cybertruck adopts integrated die-casting, injecting molten metal into molds for high-pressure forming. This consolidates components, reducing costs. Tesla has explored applying the process since partnering with die-casting firm IDRA Group in 2020, making the Cybertruck a watershed.

Per Musk, the Cybertruck is the first 4-door pickup with over 6-foot bed and fitting in a 20-foot garage, necessitating extensive design work. Images reveal meticulous details, like minimized openings to limit vibration, and rearview mirrors integrated into glass to maintain the smooth exterior.

Yet competitors seem unfazed by the upstart. Ford CEO Jim Farley dismissed the Cybertruck as a “cool, high-end” niche product unable to seriously contend with his F-150.

Pickup “big brother” counters with price cuts

Tesla’s pickup focus reflects America’s enduring pickup love. Pickups represent one of the auto industry’s most profitable segments.

The 2022 Kelley Blue Book fourth-quarter popularity report ranked four pickups in the top five.

The Cybertruck’s vanguard includes Ford and Rivian. Backed by Ford’s 2019 $500 million investment, Rivian produces the R1T electric pickup.

In Q1 2022 Rivian boasted 268% higher production and 548% more deliveries, leading U.S. EV growth. 2022’s target is over 50,000 R1Ts.

Category juggernaut Ford saw similar success. Around 2,300 F-150 Lightnings delivered the first month amid tight supply, despite repeated price hikes. Ford expects maximum production this fall, with 2022 deliveries potentially reaching 150,000. A new pickup, the Ford T3, will also launch.

For Tesla, entering pickups promises renewed profit growth amid stagnating car sales. Q2 financials showed a 20% profit increase, reversing two quarters of shrinking margins. At 9.6%, operating margins steeply declined from a 19.2% peak. This marked Tesla’s first single-digit quarterly margins since Q1 2021.

Wedbush Securities attributed sales from Tesla’s price cuts, albeit with margin deterioration.

In pickups, Cybertruck faces Ford’s price war chest. Soon after Cybertruck’s debut, Ford trumpeted F-150 Lightning price cuts. The basic model dropped 16.6% to $49,995, with high-end versions falling about 6% too. Though citing production savings, the message resounded as Musk deemed the Lightning overpriced. Cybertruck prices may struggle exceeding comparable Lightnings without sacrificing costs or profits.

Electric pickups achieve stronger torque

Versus passenger cars, pickups prioritizing hauling need sturdier torque – an electric advantage.

The dual-motor F-150 Lightning boasts 563 horsepower and 1024 Nm torque, sprinting 0-96km/h in 4.5 seconds, with 4.5-ton towing capacity – all besting the gasoline version. The R1T exceeds further with 1120 Nm torque and 3-second 0-96km/h acceleration.

While torque specifics remain unannounced, the Cybertruck must stand out among intense competition.

After torque, battery life challenges electric pickups. The Lightning promises 480 km range, the R1T 644 km, both while untested fully loaded. With its 4680 batteries, the Cybertruck should excel here, though battery production struggles linger.

Domestic automakers like Great Wall and Geely also debut electric pickups. Will Cybertruck impact them? The industry veteran sees consumer tastes, not technology, shaping domestic electric pickups.

Pickups remain a niche in China. Many cities restrict pickups, while China lacks the farmers and suburban middle class comprising much of America’s pickup market. This hinders perceptions of pickups as upscale and refined, discouraging the approx. 200,000 yuan price tag of electric pickups. Still, provocation from the “catfish” Cybertruck and relaxing restrictions should expedite domestic electric pickup development, pending changes in consumer attitudes.

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