Elon Musk knows how to cause a stir. The flamboyant founder of Tesla bags more headlines than a pizza-eating royal with no need for anti-perspirant.
His latest media-spinning stunt came in the angular shape of the much-anticipated ‘Cybertruck’ launched last week.
The vehicle looks like it was penned with an Etch-A-Sketch and knocked-up in a garage shed, yet it wasn’t that leading bulletins. Instead it was another in a long list of Musk faux pas that dominated its global unveiling, when its ‘shatterproof’ glass failed the Ronseal test of ‘doing exactly what it says on the tin’.
But look beyond the cracked windows and what you’re left with is a vehicle that simply isn’t fit for purpose.
From a shape that places style well above substance for a supposedly functional truck and seems unlikely to be crash or pedestrian-friendly, to the use of impractical stainless steel, the Cybertruck seems unlikely to be the workman’s tool of the future.
‘I only told you to bounce the bloody ball off’: Franz von Holshausen smashes the impenetrable ‘armoured’ windows of Elon Musk’s new Tesla Cybertruck
Not that any of this matters to Elon Musk. His track record shows nothing will stop him launching a new product to market.
And what better way to showcase the capabilities of your latest release then putting it though a live demonstration, he must have thought.
It’s been a week since Franz von Holshausen, Tesla’s metal-ball-wielding chief designer, stepped forward to display the durability of the plug-in pick-up’s ‘unbreakable windows’ to the world’s press in LA, ending with two shattered panes, egg on Elon’s face and his net worth declining by $768million in a matter of hours.
Brilliantly, soon after the most recent embarrassment of the failed unsmashable-window demo, Musk took to Twitter with a video showing the same ball-against-glass ‘exercise’ being a success ‘right before’ the launch.
Not quite the credible, repeatable or scientific approach to vehicle testing though, is it?
Not that the dedicated Teslarati – the brand’s volt-zapped fanbase – cared.
Despite last week’s embarrassing episode, a flurry of social media Tesla loving has followed, as the brand’s most committed advocates struggle to contain their Cybertruck giddyness.
But for all those who continue to laud Tesla and Musk’s antics and product releases, there are others who are concerned by the history of half-baked products brought to market with dangerous limitations.
Top of the list of ill-conceived ideas came in October 2015 when it released software activating its Autopilot functionality to owners as part of an Apple-like version 7.0 update.
New and existing customers with compatible Model S saloons got the first taste of self-driving systems on public roads. But it came without a fail safe to stop them from perching in a passenger seat and letting the car chauffeur the journey.
Cue endless videos of owners filming from the backseat as their invisible driver – directed by some fairly basic autonomous tech – propelled them down the motorway.
Software version 7.1 was hurriedly released just days later to remove some features to discourage customers from engaging in such life-threatening behavior.
Even in recent months, footage has emerged of drivers asleep at the wheel of Teslas as questions continue to be raised about Autopilot’s suitability in the real world.
And that’s just one of the ill-informed decisions made by the car maker and its kingpin.
But what else would you expect from a company CEO who delivered peak outrage levels on social media by calling a British diver who helped instigate the rescue of a stranded Thai football team from a cave in 2018 a ‘pedo guy’?
Elon’s tweets have also involved the famous one about taking the company private that led to a reprimand from the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
The same mastermind behind many a crazed 280-character rant is the same one to fire a Tesla Roadster out of the earth’s atmosphere to drift through the vacuum of space and send company share prices tumbling by smoking weed while recording for one of America’s most popular podcasts.
To say Elon Musk has a colourful track record is an understatement. From social media accusations landing him in legal bother to dabbling in narcotics on a podcast, he’s a persistent headline grabber
Cybertruck is the sort of ridiculousness we expect
This quick trip down Musk memory lane makes Cybertruck feel not quite as ridiculous as it once might have been. In fact, it arrived with a tinge of predictability.
That’s not to say it isn’t riddled with its own raft of brain-dead features.
Forget the fact it looks like a cast-iron doorstop (Musk even had the audacity to claim it’s inspired by the iconic Lotus Esprit), costs from $40,000 and has penetrable windows.
Instead, just focus on the fact the body is made from stainless steel.
This, Musk points out, makes Cybertruck so durable that the panels can be beaten by Mr von Holshausen with a sledgehammer – moments before he put the armoured windows in with an oversized ball-bearing.
Which begs the question: why haven’t mainstream vehicle manufacturers thought of making their car panels out of stainless steel before?
Maybe because it wears out manufacturing tooling equipment at an alarming rate and is incredibly difficult to repair.
The DeLorean is the only memorable production vehicle to feature a stainless steel body
DMC encountered plenty of difficulties trying to rework the exact shape, contour, and grain with the material
Dented or scratched panels had to be replaced as they couldn’t be repaired
Just ask the handfuls of DeLorean owners, with the sports car the only memorable model to use sheet stainless steel bodywork.
They’ll tell you that removing scratches from panels is a painstaking process, let alone trying to fix a dent. And you need to find a specialist who can carry out this kind of work for you.
Quality control also hasn’t been one of Tesla’s strong points since Model S hit the market in 2012, it’s worth mentioning.
Then you need to take into account that it’s significantly heavier than conventional mild steel and aluminum parts, which does seem like a counter-intuitive call when you consider that any unnecessary bulk saps the range of electric vehicles already laden with hefty batteries.
This doesn’t just make it unpractical but uneconomical, too. Think of all the energy wasted by providing electricity for a vehicle that uses it in the most inefficient manner.
I’ll also be excited to read Euro NCAP’s crash test report on how a slab-shaped steel block performs in pedestrian safety assessments. Or does stainless steel have human-body absorbing characteristics I didn’t know about?
Cybertruck tug-of-war PR stunt outed by US press
Cybertruck is ‘better than an F-150 and faster than a Porsche 911’, Musk claims in one of a pick of audacious tweets.
In an attempt to prove the former statement, Tesla has released a video showing its new electric pick-up in a tug of war with Ford’s volume-selling truck – the benchmark vehicle for Cybertruck in the US market.
The Tesla promo clip shows the Cybertruck effortlessly hauling the F-150 along, as the smaller Ford’s tyres spin and smoke in vain as it loses the battle.
However, the US press has been quick to out the clip as nothing but an unfair stunt.
Website AutoWeek said the Ford in question isn’t a like-for-like match for the Tesla at all, with Musk’s team hand-picking a knowingly inferior version of the F-150 for the duel.
‘First, it’s painfully obvious that the Ford F-150 being pulled is a rear-wheel-drive version,’ it said.
‘Second, the Ford in question looks like an STX trim level, one of the base models, which means it’s likely equipped with the smaller 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 engine producing 325hp.
‘Third, the Tesla Cybertruck is likely much heavier than the Ford it’s pulling—we have trouble imagining a scenario in which the Ford is heavier somehow. In fact, the difference in curb weight could be quite dramatic.
‘Fourth, the grip of the AWD Cybertruck’s tires is likely magnitudes greater than the dealer tires the Ford is wearing (and, again, it has four tires gripping versus the Ford’s two).’
You can read AutoWeek’s full dissection of the video PR stunt.
Rob Hull says the Cybertruck is a vehicle that looks like it was penned with an Etch-A-Sketch and knocked-up in a garage shed
Despite all the Cybertruck faults, Elon will still try to sell you one
What Cybertruck does is reiterate that the pragmatic route is one Tesla, guided by Musk, will almost certainly avoid taking.
The small, affordable, rangey vehicle most of us have been hoping for to slot in under the Model 3 is unlikely to ever surface – not anytime soon while Elon’s Space X and Boring Company tunnel projects are in full-swing, anyway.
Surely once Volkswagen’s dedicated ID electric brand and other mainstream manufacturers have a host of zero-emission cars in market, any hope of a sensible Tesla will become a forgotten dream.
Until then the army of cult-like fanatics can lap-up trucks that look better designed for Chernobyl than Chigwell high street.
Not that this will stop Elon trying to sell you one. He’s already taken to Twitter to announce that the pick-up has secured over 250,000 ‘orders’.
However, by orders he means a $100 refundable deposit customers will get back if Cybertruck fails to ever surface.
Fortunately, if it does somehow become a production reality, Tesla’s latest credentials with Model 3 manufacturing hold-ups and delivery delays means we’re unlikely to see one for quite a few years.
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