Tesla Cybertruck: Elon Musk enters stiff pick-up truck market with electric model

The eventful launch saw Musk telling audience the vehicle 'won't scratch and dent' before smashing a window with a metal ball

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Tesla unveiled its first electric pick-up truck that looked like a futuristic angular armoured vehicle in gunmetal gray, as the California company took aim at the heart of Detroit car makers' profits.

At a launch event in Los Angeles, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said the Cybertruck will sell from $39,900 and production is expected to begin in late 2021.

Other versions will be priced at $49,900 and $69,900 with the most expensive offering a range of more than 804km.

"We need sustainable energy now. If we don't have a pick-up truck, we can't solve it. The top 3 selling vehicles in America are pick-up trucks. To solve sustainable energy, we have to have a pick-up truck," he said.

In the demo, Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen took a sledgehammer to the truck, which withstood the impact. Then it all went wrong.

Mr Von Holzhausen took a metallic ball and tossed it at the truck – smashing the front driver-side window, stunning the audience and viewers live streaming the event.

“Oh my ****ing god,” Mr Musk said, when the window broke. “Maybe that was a little too hard.”

They tried again and a second test broke a second window.

Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk stands in front of the shattered windows of the newly unveiled all-electric battery-powered Tesla's Cybertruck at Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, California on November 21, 2019.  / AFP / FREDERIC J. BROWN
Musk stands in front of cracked windows during the eventful launch. AFP

Analysts gave Tesla a pass after the blunder.

"It’s classic Tesla. It’s poetic," said Gene Munster of Loup Ventures. "I applaud the company for taking risks: this was not a boring presentation. The broken glass was unpredictable. This wasn’t practiced."

Akshay Anand, executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book said "this obviously wasn’t a true production vehicle so Tesla gets a pass for now".

"But if they are going to market the glass as a differentiator, they better be able to show stronger tests leading up to launch."

Wild reactions on Twitter

Reactions on Twitter ranged from love to hate of the sharply angled vehicle as well as the obvious comparison to Back to the Future's DeLorean.

Mr Musk earlier tweeted the design was partly influenced by James Bond's Lotus Esprit sports car that converted into a submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me.

The truck marks the first foray by Tesla, whose Model 3 sedan is the world's top-selling battery electric car, into pick-up trucks, a market dominated by Ford and General Motors.

Tesla has so far sold mostly Model S and Model 3 sedans, but also offers the Model X SUV and starting next year the Model Y compact SUV.

A focus on the high-performance end of the market is only natural given the success of Ford's 450-horsepower F-150 Raptor truck, which launched in 2009 and whose sales have since risen annually, according to spokesman Mike Levine.

Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk discusses vehicle dimensions in front of the newly unveiled all-electric battery-powered Tesla Cybertruck at Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, California on November 21, 2019.  / AFP / Frederic J. BROWN
The dimensions. AFP

While Ford does not disclose Raptor sales, Mr Levine said annual demand is well above 19,000 vehicles and the No 2 US car maker has never had to offer incentives on the model, which costs in the high $60,000 range. Ford also offers the more expensive F-150 Limited, its most powerful and luxurious pick-up.

Ford and GM are also gearing up to challenge Tesla more directly with new offerings like the Ford Mustang Mach E electric SUV as well as electric pick-ups.

Electric pick-ups and SUVs could help Ford and GM generate the significant EV sales they will need to meet tougher emission standards and EV mandates in California and other states.

The Trump administration is moving to roll back those standards, but electric trucks are a hedge if California prevails.

Demand for full-size electric pick-up trucks in the near term may not be huge, however.

Industry tracking company IHS Markit estimates the US electric truck segment - both full- and mid-sized models - will account for about 75,000 sales in 2026, compared with an expected three million light trucks overall. The Tesla truck is not part of that estimate.

Ford aims to sell an electric F-series in late 2021, sources familiar with the plans said. It also will offer the Mach E next year as part of its plan to invest $11.5 billion by 2022 to electrify its vehicles.

In April, Ford invested $500 million in start-up Rivian, which plans to build its own electric pick-up beginning in fall 2020.

GM plans to build a family of premium electric pickup trucks and SUVs, with the first pickup due to go on sale in the fall of 2021. It plans to invest $8bn by 2023 to develop electric and self-driving vehicles.