Some moments you never forget. Seeing my bride walk down the aisle toward me at our wedding. Driving my first car home. And now, in a somewhat distant but still significant third place: my initial glimpse of the new, industry-changing Tesla Cybertruck electric pickup in a clandestine September meeting at the automaker’s Los Angeles design headquarters.
Few outsiders have ever been inside the top-secret Tesla Design Studio, which is nestled away next to the sprawling SpaceX factory, a Falcon 9 rocket, and a scale replica of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop in a corner of the Hawthorne Airport. Elon and his right-hand man, chief designer Franz von Holzhausen, invited us to be the first journalists, and first outsiders, to see the automaker’s most hotly anticipated debut since the Model 3: the Tesla pickup truck.
Leading up to the truck’s public unveiling, MotorTrend went behind the scenes with the Tesla team, provided feedback, and watched the Cybertruck go from a life-size clay model to a (literally) bulletproof working prototype.
First Contact: 8 weeks ’til debut
As we approach the studio, Franz scans his key card and holds open the door as Elon leads us into the repurposed airfield hangar, where the first, radical Northrop flying wings took shape. Now serving a much different purpose, the well-lit design studio nonetheless houses an equally revolutionary machine today.
Like a Zumwalt Class Destroyer meets leftover Blade Runner prop, Tesla’s truck looks like none the world has ever seen before.
Its design is deceptively simple. Its profile is diamondlike, with five simple lines. Its nose is wedge-shaped, its sheetmetal quickly merging with a single massive pane of windshield glass—”bulletproof,” Elon says—that peaks above the driver’s head. Just as quickly as that line rises, it drops back down, with the truck’s sail panels (which will include built-in storage in the production version) and garage/tambour door-style roll-up tonneau cover completing its faceted physique.
The head-on view of Tesla’s electric pickup is equally arresting; a cyclopean single LED flows across the nose to join the fender flares, while a second, off-road-oriented lightbar lives at the top of the windshield. Its polished, stainless-steel sheetmetal has a few creases to define the tumblehome, as well as subtle curves as the truck stretches 230 inches rearward—roughly the length of a conventional Ford F-150 crew cab short bed.
Draped in 3mm-thick unpainted stainless steel, the truck features four doors, a small frunk, and a 6.5-foot bed with accessory rails and four tie-downs. Notably, the bed has no wheel well intrusion despite a 57.0-inch overall width and accommodating 35-inch off-road tires. There is a Honda Ridgeline-like trunk cut into the bed floor. The Cybertruck’s wheelbase stretches 149.9 inches, and its steel skin is bulletproof to 9mm rounds. (Really.) If you want a color besides the polished silver of stainless steel, the Cybertruck can be vinyl-wrapped—which lowers environmental impact and costs of a paint shop.
“What do you think?” Elon asks. A collective, stunned, “Wow,” is about all we can muster. All the renderings by the automotive chattering classes? So, so wrong.
Back for more: 2 weeks to go
A month later we had a chance to go back and check in on Tesla’s progress on the Cybertruck. The life-size clay model we’d seen before had—quite shockingly—been joined by a half-finished Cybertruck running prototype. With Black Sabbath and Tool blaring from an unseen stereo, the workshop was frenzied with activity. It was midafternoon Friday; Elon wanted Tesla’s EV pickup assembled and driving through the SpaceX factory by Sunday. The reveal was two weeks away.
What would be running was turning out to be quite interesting: A motor at each axle, Tesla’s new Raven permanent-magnet drive units, to be precise. Up front sat a Model 3 Performance’s rear motor; in back, a well-protected Model S Performance’s rear motor.
Tesla doesn’t publish horsepower figures anymore, but we estimate up to 690 hp and 824 lb-ft of torque combined from the twin motors in the Raven powertrain. The future three-motor Plaid powertrain will certainly find its way into the Cybertruck, and it could put out an estimated 800 hp and 1000 lb-ft of torque. Like all Teslas, the Cybertruck’s motors are backed by a one-speed automatic. Feeding the motors is Tesla’s “latest” battery technology, of which the company has shared little. The standard battery pack is mounted underneath the cab, just forward of the roll-up tonneau cover’s storage compartment (beneath the pickup bed floor), and offers about 300 miles of claimed range. A new, double-stacked battery will give a tri-motor Cybertruck up to 500 miles of range. A base single-rear motor Cybertruck will have up to 250 miles of range. Construction of the prototype is “unibody-on-frame” in the same vein as the new Land Rover Defender, but the production Cybertruck will be pure unibody.
Based on Elon’s experiences growing up with 4x4s in South Africa, great pains were made to keep the Cybertruck’s belly flat, its motors and suspension tucked up and away from the pickup’s armored underbelly, to improve its off-road performance.
Although most off-roaders and pickup owners would sneer at an air suspension, Tesla opted for a significantly beefed up version of the Model X’s air setup with upper and lower A-arms at all four corners. Air suspensions typically offer lots of ground clearance but little meaningful travel, but based on nothing more than watching the Cybertruck get lowered from its lift to the ground, that shouldn’t be an issue with this truck. The amount of travel was, frankly, insane—hinting that Tesla might be targeting the Ford F-150 Raptor’s desert-running credentials.
The air suspension has further benefits, too. Aside from the obvious ride quality and on-road performance implications, it’ll give the Cybertruck multiple ride heights, load-leveling (both fore and aft and side to side), and, most interesting, a mode that dips the truck’s rear end and tailgate to the ground, allowing a motorcycle or ATV to easily roll up into the bed via built-in pull-out ramps.
Projected towing and payload capacities are all preliminary, but Tesla’s early estimates should get the attention of even the most brand-loyal pickup owner. With a single motor, maximum tow capacity will be about 7,500 pounds and payload about 3,500 pounds. Mid-level dual-motor Cybertrucks can carry 3,500 pounds in the bed and tow 10,000 pounds. Cybertrucks with the larger, stacked battery and three-motors should be able to tow about 14,000 pounds and haul 3,500 pounds. Notably, both of those figures beat the aluminum-bodied F-150’s current maximums of 13,200 and 2,309 pounds.
Cybertruck’s interior was still taking shape during both of our visits, but it’ll no doubt be the most familiar to current Tesla owners—and controversial to truck owners. The six-seat cabin features a single, Model 3-style center screen, through which most of the Cybertruck’s features and functions are accessed.
Both rows of seats are surprisingly roomy, with the fronts offering a generous headroom thanks to the peaked roof. Visibility will no doubt be a challenge, as the hood and fenders are largely unseen from the driver’s seat (though this is addressed with a nose-mounted camera). The bed’s sail panels and roll-up tonneau also compromise rearward visibility. Tesla says this will also be addressed with a camera, but reversing with a trailer could nevertheless be challenging.
How Much Will the Tesla Cybertruck Cost?
Tesla says the Cybertruck will start at $39,900 for a single-motor RWD model, while a dual-motor AWD model is $49,900 (coincidentally, the average pickup transaction price) whenever it goes into production. If the 250-mile-range base model and 300-mile dual-motor model aren’t enough, consider the tri-motor AWD for $69,900. That top-of-the-line Tesla truck has an estimated range of over 500 miles. Tesla production cycles are notoriously difficult to pinpoint—the Tesla Roadster was supposed to go on sale by 2020—but given the pace of the Cybertruck’s development and its light manufacturing footprint, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it reach production before that sports car. After all, as one of the Cybertruck’s engineers whispered to me, “Like Elon says, ‘It only takes nine months to make a baby. ‘”
More on the Tesla Cybertruck electric pickup:
- Tesla Cybertruck Revealed! Photos + Details on the Wild New Electric Pickup
- Is the Tesla Cybertruck *Really* Bulletproof?
- Can the Tesla Cybertruck Go Off-Roading?
- How the Tesla Cybertruck Shatters the Engineering and Manufacturing Paradigms
- Tesla Cybertruck Could Hit 1,000 Lb-Ft of Torque With Plaid Power
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