Tesla Cybertruck: When Design Goes Extraterrestrial

Sohan Choudhury
Nov 26, 2019 · 7 min read

Musk and company throw out the rulebook. We’re left to ask, what is a Tesla?

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Starman, pt. 2

A low-polygon count render of a pickup truck? Bruce Wayne’s vehicle of choice for transporting cargo around Gotham? A fusion of origami and space-grade stainless steel?

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<insert joke about how live demos never work>

The Tesla Cybertruck (yeah, that’s actually what they’re calling it) is not your typical pickup. This thing is an absolute beast. It starts at $39,900 — only about $5,000 more than Tesla’s budget-friendly Model 3. And that price doesn’t take into account the $7,500 federal tax credit or savings on fuel. With the tri-motor spec, Tesla claims that Cybertruck will tow about 5 billion pounds and go from 0–60 in 2.9 seconds. As Musk put it, “better truck than an F-150, faster than a Porsche 911.”

But it’s not the ludicrous stats that’s got the world talking about Cybertruck. It’s the looks. I mean, have you seen anything like it? Not only is this a clear departure from Tesla design, it’s a break from what we expect cars to even look like.

One of these things is not like the others

Looking across the company’s current vehicle line, a clear design language emerges. In the Model S and X we can see very similar features, such as in the shape of their hoods and wing mirrors. Honestly, the X looks like a lifted Model S with Falcon Wing Doors.

Where the Model S and X may look like cousins, the Model 3 and Y are nearly identical twins. The Y is literally a Model 3 that has been vertically stretched out.

These similarities have over time determined what we expect a Tesla to look like, and is very much intentional. In the past decade, vehicle manufacturers have worked especially hard to create strong brand imagery with a common design language.

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Teslas had started to look remarkably similar. Model Y above, Model 3 below.

For context, let’s take a look at a more traditional player: Mercedes. The company wants you to classify any of their vehicles as a Mercedes at first sight thanks to their distinctive design. This set their products apart from the competition, and helps to sell brand values of luxury, performance, and top-notch engineering with each and every Benz. Can’t afford the top-of-the-line S Class? No worries, you’ve got options in the E Class or C Class. Sure, you may miss out on some features, but it’s still a Mercedes.

Tesla’s no stranger to this. In the past, the company has effectively leveraged the popularity of higher end models such as the Model S and X to build hype for more affordable variants. Let’s not forget — within just a week of the Model 3 unveiling, Tesla had received over 325,000 preorders. Despite official deliveries of the vehicles being over a year away, the company was able to use its powerful reputation of building great EVs to enter the mass-consumer market.

With Cybertruck, it appears as if Tesla’s designers forgot all of this and decided to start with a completely blank state. Pretty much the only similarity it shares with other Teslas is the shape of its tires… although I get the feeling that they would’ve changed that too if it weren’t for the pesky laws of physics.

One of these things is not like… anything

Not only have Teslas so far generally looked similar, their designs have been directly influenced by traditional vehicles.

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The old grille.

Up until 2016, the Model S shipped with a faux grille. This design feature served no engineering purpose — unlike gas-powered vehicles, electric vehicles don’t need air intakes for internal combustion. So, why was it there?

The utility in the grille was that it helped the Model S emulate the look of pre-existing vehicles on the market. At the time, Tesla had to convince the public that electric vehicles could replace gas-powered ones. That was no small task, as EV’s faced intense scrutiny. Questions surrounding range anxiety and even the safety of battery-powered drivetrains loomed over future adoption of the technology. Fears that the batteries could catch fire, for instance, even led the NHTSA to open an investigation on the matter.

For years, the design of Teslas had to be moderated and “normal” because their drivetrains were what made them so radical. Today, in light of traditional vehicle manufacturers such as Ford and Porsche launching their own EVs, it’s become clear that Tesla has succeeded in convincing the general public that this technology is viable.

As a result, over time we’ve seen Tesla eliminate more traditional automotive design elements from their vehicles. That grille on the older Model S? Ditched for a more streamlined look. Newer models, such as the Model 3 and Y, continue this trend.

With these moves, Tesla has set a precedent of pushing design norms, forcing us to rethink what tomorrow’s electric vehicles will look like. This still doesn’t explain the giant leap the company has made with Cybertruck, though.

Destination: Mars?

We’ve established that Cybertruck is both a departure from how we’ve come to know Tesla, and from the company’s gradual design evolution that has helped it to normalize electric vehicles for the consumer market. Keep in mind that Cybertruck’s got no curves, no exterior branding, no windshield wipers, and no rearview mirrors.

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Cybertruck looks less like what we’d expect from a Tesla pickup than Rivian’s R1T.

So why Cybertruck, and why now?

I think this is Tesla finally embracing its true identity. For over 16 years, the company has been the dark horse of the automotive industry, masquerading in many ways as one of the other players. They’ve pitched their vehicles as faster and safer than the competition in an effort to convince consumers that electric vehicles are worth considering. Cybertruck breaks from this script and shows Tesla’s faith in its success so far. The company is betting that we’re ready to accept Cybertruck— even though it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before.

If the unveiling of the Model 3 was a test to see if the world was ready for a mass-consumer EV, Cybertruck tests whether we’re ready to ditch preconceived notions for what personal transportation should look like altogether.

What’s more, Cybertruck might just show us what the future of Tesla has in store.

Back in 2006, Musk published the “Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan” on the company’s blog. He foreshadowed the Model 3 and Y a decade before they were launched, stating “our long term plan is to build a wide range of models, including affordably priced family cars.” Musk went on to write:

“… the overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company) is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy, which I believe to be the primary, but not exclusive, sustainable solution.”

Musk’s vision is what makes Tesla so different from other vehicle manufacturers. Features we’ve seen in Teslas so far — everything from the original Model S grille to the common design language between different models, are merely a means to an end. They don’t define Tesla, but are just necessary intermediary steps in building the path to an electric future.

Perhaps Teslas moving forwards won’t be defined by things like the shape of their headlights or logos on their hoods. Instead, Cybertruck might force us to see the company’s products more purely — as electric vehicles ripe with bleeding-edge tech, embodying Musk’s bold vision of the future. I mean, who else would claim their newly-revealed pickup as the official truck of Mars?

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On a more practical note, early indications do look positive. Despite Cybertruck’s striking / questionable / amazingly unique looks, over 200,000 people have already placed pre-orders. I’m proud to be one of them. Let’s just hope they fix the windows in post. :)

Thanks for reading! Feel free to follow me / check out BOOST for more.

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