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Tesla unveils its electric pickup truck. It’s pointy

Tesla has unveiled three models of its 'cybertruck': a single-motor rear-wheel-drive for $39,900, a dual-motor all-wheel-drive for $49,900, and a tri-motor all-wheel-drive for $69,900.

By: New York Times | Updated: November 22, 2019 1:20:19 pm
Tesla unveils its electric pickup truck. It’s pointy Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduces the Cybertruck at Tesla’s design studio Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, in Hawthorne, Calif. Musk is taking on the workhorse heavy pickup truck market with his latest electric vehicle. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Written by Karen Zraick, Neal Boudette and Daniel Victor

Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, on Thursday unveiled the “Cybertruck,” an electric pickup truck that the company hopes will rival Ford’s best-selling F-150 line.

Its design ensured it would certainly stand out on the road. Looking little like traditional pickup trucks, the Cybertruck, which will start at $39,900, has a stainless steel exterior with a triangular roof.

“Trucks have been the same for a very long time,” Musk said at an event in Los Angeles. “Like a hundred years, trucks have been basically the same. We want to try something different.”

What did Tesla show?

The company unveiled three models: a single-motor rear-wheel-drive for $39,900, a dual-motor all-wheel-drive for $49,900, and a tri-motor all-wheel-drive for $69,900.

The most expensive truck tows 14,000 pounds and can go up to 500 miles on a single charge, Tesla said. Musk said the truck has the acceleration of a Porsche.

Orders were immediately available on the Tesla website. Production will begin in late 2021, Tesla said.

Musk led demonstrations that he said would prove the trucks were “really tough, not fake tough.” An assistant smacked the door with a sledgehammer, leaving no dent. Musk said the doors could withstand a bullet from a 9 mm handgun.

A demonstration of window strength did not go as well. The assistant lobbed a metal ball at the driver’s side window, which immediately cracked. He tried again on the back seat window. That cracked, too.

“Maybe that was a little too hard,” Musk said.

He gave the rest of the presentation with the cracked windows behind him.

In interviews before the unveiling, Musk acknowledged the truck’s look wasn’t exactly conventional.

On the “Ride the Lightning” podcast this month, Musk said the truck would look “pretty sci-fi” and “kind of like a Blade Runner truck.”

“It’s not going to be for everyone,” he said, with characteristic bravado.

“When we unveil this thing, there will be some people who are like, ‘Oh, that doesn’t look like a truck; I don’t want to buy it,’” he said. “It’s like when they came out with automobiles, people were like, ‘Oh, I like a horse and carriage.’ Sure, OK, you can stick with your horse and carriage, but you’re going to get an automobile later. You just don’t know it.”

Tesla unveils its electric pickup truck. It’s pointy The Cybertruck, Tesla’s first electric pickup truck, is seen in this undated handout picture released by the company. (Tesla/Handout via Reuters)

Are other companies making electric trucks?

In fact, they are.

General Motors announced on Thursday that its first battery electric pickup truck would go on sale in fall 2021. Ford Motor has said it will release a hybrid F-150 next year, and the company is working on an all-electric version. (In a demonstration in July, an F-150 electric prototype successfully towed more than 1.25 million pounds of rail cars and trucks for a short distance during a capability test.)

The startup Rivian also introduced an electric pickup truck this year. Rivian is considered a potential rival to Tesla and has gotten a $500 million investment from Ford, as well as backing from Amazon. Rivian’s truck and an electric sport utility vehicle are supposed to go into production next year.

Do analysts think people will buy Tesla’s truck?

Musk argues that electric vehicles will eventually replace traditional ones. And Americans love pickup trucks. But at least in the short term, some analysts are doubtful that traditional truck buyers will invest in early electric models.

Karl Brauer, the executive publisher at Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, predicted that the Tesla truck would appeal more to tech enthusiasts than to traditional buyers.

“Everything from its styling to its drivetrain will be a major departure from standard pickup trucks,” he said in a statement. “As a technology statement for tech-oriented professionals and fans, this truck’s departures from the norm will be seen as assets, not liabilities.”

A Tesla supercharging station in Mountain View, Calif., Aug. 8, 2017. (The New York Times: Jason Henry)

What other models is Tesla working on?

The company sells two sedans and a sport utility vehicle, and has a hatchback coming to the market next year. Tesla is also working on a two-seat roadster and a semitruck, both of which it unveiled two years ago.

Tesla has become one of the top producers of luxury cars in the United States, rivaling brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It is also among the leading companies developing self-driving cars, which have faced tough questions about safety. The company, founded in 2003, has never turned an annual profit.

Why is Musk in the news so often?

Musk is a brash Silicon Valley billionaire whose companies and public comments make headlines regularly. This week, for example, a federal judge rejected Musk’s attempt to throw out a defamation lawsuit brought against him by a British cave explorer whom Musk had accused of being a “pedo guy.”

Musk is also the chief executive of SpaceX, which launches rockets and spacecraft and has been hired to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. NASA conducted a safety review of SpaceX last year after Musk smoked pot on the podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience.”

Tesla and Musk had gone through a period of turmoil starting in August 2018, after Musk abruptly declared on Twitter that he hoped to take the publicly traded company private. The events kicked off furor in the markets and ignited a federal investigation. He was fined $20 million by securities regulators and agreed to relinquish the chairmanship of Tesla for three years.

But when he was asked by a Twitter follower about the cost of his tweet, Musk said it had been “worth it.” Musk subsequently announced that he was taking a break from Twitter for a few days, but he eventually returned to the platform.

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