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Tesla’s Cybertruck hits the market with a higher price tag and plenty of challenges

Tesla CEO Elon Musk presided over the delivery of the company’s long-awaited Cybertruck, four years after it was first unveiled. But while there wasn’t much new information since the original presentation, a new price went live on Tesla’s website shortly after.

While the event had the typical Musk flash, with grandiose prognostications about “the future” and videos of Cybertrucks driving across ice, it provided very little new information. Even the price on Tesla’s website, which allowed people to place a $250 deposit to place their order, didn’t include traditional car buying experiences, like choosing options. There was no discussion of practicalities like front trunk space, or anything beyond the company’s existing 250-mile range estimate.

The website did reveal, however, that the top-of-the-line model would be dubbed the “Cyberbeast.”

With a starting price of $60,990 before federal tax credits, the Tesla Cybertruck comes in at just over $20,000 more than the base model that was originally discussed at the vehicle’s debut in 2019. The company originally said the Cybertruck would cost less than $40,000, but a pandemic and an ensuing period of high inflation forced the company to move away from that promise.

And even then, it would only be “available in 2025,” the Tesla website said.

If you want one in 2024, be prepared to pony up nearly $80,000.

In terms of cost, alone, the Cybertruck is entering an electric vehicle market crowded with vehicles at that same price range. It’s not just pickups, but SUVs, too. It’s a factor that is already depressing sales of some electric vehicles, particularly in the luxury market, as automakers have flooded that price range as they try to start up their electric manufacturing operations.

He also boasted of its “sports-car like” performance and showed a video of the Cybertruck towing a Porsche 911 on a trailer while itself racing a Porsche 911 down a drag strip. In fairness, Porsche 911 sports cars are not sold on the basis of raw acceleration. Neither, of course, are pickup trucks, so it’s unclear how much of a selling point that will be.

But Tesla’s site gives that acceleration figure only for the Cyberbeast version of the truck costing nearly $100,000. The truck’s 11,000 pound towing capacity, something also mentioned in the presentation, is shown only in the all-wheel-drive versions costing $80,000 or $100,000.

The truck’s price range may not be that much of an issue compared to high-end trucks already on the market, said Brian Moody, executive editor at Kelley Blue Book. Tesla is limited in the range of prices it can offer.

Because Tesla has basically one version of the truck with some minor modifications, they don’t have the advantage of having a very low-price truck as well as a very high and heavy-duty, super-capable truck,” Moody said in an email.

Tesla has about 2 million reservations for the Cybertruck according to an estimate from Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives, who is bullish on the company. He said he would expect only 30% to 40% of those reservations will be converted into sales. The bigger problem could be the production problems that Musk admits the company faces trying to ramp up production of the truck, especially with competition from electric pickups from Ford, GM and Rivian.

“It’s a Herculean task to ramp production, but Tesla has been here before,” he said, referring to previous product introductions, like the Model 3 sedan. But he cautioned, “it’s a much more complex market for them to navigate.”

Looking like a close relative of a high-end kitchen appliance, the Cybertruck looked like nothing else on the road when it was first unveiled in 2019, and it still doesn’t. Standing out was exactly the point of its weird, angular all-metal look: Musk hoped to make a statement with something that wasn’t just another big truck.

But the Cybertruck’s capabilities, such as power and range, don’t exactly stand out. The market has shifted over the past four years during Tesla’s development and delays. That means, under its shiny skin, Tesla’s fancy new pickup is now far more ordinary even before the first one rolls into a customer’s driveway.

Behind the competition

Electric motors can provide a lot of towing and hauling power and the simple size of a truck allows for lots of batteries and long range. Tesla isn’t the only automaker to realize that potential.

Since that original debut almost exactly four years ago to the day, Ford began selling the F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, and Rivian R1T pickups have become fairly common sights on American roads. More recently, General Motors started production of the Chevrolet Silverado EV electric pickup. Stellantis’s Ram 1500 Rev electric truck will also go into production in late 2024.

This isn’t the competition-free environment it was back then, and the Cybertruck’s capabilities don’t seem as remarkable as they did four years ago. Many of these other trucks have capabilities that come close, and in some cases may even exceed, Tesla’s.

Difficult to produce

Musk has also talked, repeatedly, about how difficult the Cybertruck is to manufacture, given its radical design.

The truck is made from unpainted stainless steel, a material not generally used for vehicles, because the durability of the material that Musk has touted makes it difficult to build with, and difficult to repair. The sort of giant stamping machines typically used in auto factories to quickly bend metal into shape tend to struggle with metal as strong as stainless steel.

It also has a unibody design rather than having a separate body and chassis, as most large pickups do. Unibody construction is more typical of crossover SUVs and small, light pickups like the Ford Maverick. Generally, automakers use body-on-frame designs for heavy duty trucks because of the strength and flexibility it provides when pulling heavy loads.

“There will be enormous challenges in reaching volume production with the Cybertuck and in making the Cybertruck cash flow positive,” Musk said in a recent investor call.

Slight advantages are fading fast

One advantage the Cybertruck could have is its overall size. The Cybertruck is less than 19 feet long, according to Tesla, which is slightly shorter than other full-size trucks. But Tesla claims its cargo bed, at over six feet long, is a bit longer than average.

But, for that overall short body length, the Cybertruck could sacrifice front storage. It doesn’t have a long hood like other pickups, including electric ones from Ford and GM. That could mean the Tesla has less “frunk” – or front trunk – space. Ample functional front space has been a big selling point for the Ford truck, in particular.

The truck’s wedge shape – the sides of the cargo bed meet truck’s roof – could also hinder access to the bed from the sides. Pickup users often reach in over the sides to load unload items close behind the cab.

The Cybertruck’s payload capacity, the weight it can carry in its cargo bed, is also slightly higher than competitors currently in production. The Ford F-150 Lightning can carry as much as 2,200 pounds. Again, though, the Ram 1500 Rev will be able to carry up to 2,700 pounds, more than the Cybertruck.

CNN’s Chris Isidore contributed to this report.

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