Tesla Cybertruck (2021)

I Want to Like the Tesla Cybertruck, But I Can’t

The Tesla Cybertruck broke the Internet when it was unveiled in California last week. Regardless of whether they’re interested in buying a new truck or even remotely interested in cars at all, everybody’s got an opinion. Ranging from love to utter disdain for its design, this is the most polarizing vehicle to be revealed in the last 20 years. The Nissan Juke’s got nothing on the Tesla Cybertruck.

When I first saw it, I – like many – was shocked. It looked like it sourced inspiration from the United Nude Los Res car; a simple trapezoidal form that even a child could draw. Indeed the many memes that followed showed that others felt the same, with some claiming a young Elon Musk designed it, aged 4.

United Nude Lo Res Car
United Nude Lo Res car

When I looked a bit longer I noticed shades of the Citroen Karin concept, a vehicle designed under then design director Trevor Fiore that took obvious inspiration from the wedge-shaped Bertone Stratos Zero and many other Gandini designs. The fact that the Cybertruck’s made from stainless steel – an honest, hardwearing material – also smacks of the iconic Delorean DMC-12.

But while the UN is functionalist minimalism draped over a two-passenger electric package and the Citroen Karin has an incredibly futuristic air of refinement peppered with quintessential ‘80s flair, the Tesla Cybertruck doesn’t possess any of these qualities. It may actually have more in common with the Delorean than we think.

Now that I’ve had a few days to digest, here are some thoughts.


After my initial shock wore off, I began to see the Cybertruck in a new light. It’s a refreshing take on the incredibly popular full-size utilitarian pick-up truck, a vehicle that sells in droves in the good ol’ US of A. Last year, Ford sold over 900,000 units of its F-150 pickup and the GM models (Silverado et al.) raked in 800,000 sales. That’s a lot of metal. The problem is that most of these trucks are sold in the heartland to farmers and construction workers. The Cybertruck is an entirely different proposition.

Ford F-150 vs Tesla Cybertruck
Ford F-150 vs Tesla Cybertruck

Perhaps the Tesla Cybertruck will appeal to some people currently driving pickup trucks and convert some buyers. That’s the possibility Musk is banking on (quite literally). But truck buyers are an extremely brand faithful and conservative group. They’d sooner get a divorce than switch brands.

No, the Cybertruck is clearly aimed at Gen Yers, the millennials. The tech-savvy group of digital natives that see it as being cool, those that want to own it so they can pop their collars and show it off. Tesla knows this. That’s why Marques Brownlee, a tech YouTuber, was one of the first people to have an accompanied drive at the launch. Obviously he now has one on order, as does Supercar Blondie – though she still thinks it’s painted silver (and that’s when I stopped watching).

The closest production comparison to the Tesla pickup is the Honda Ridgeline, though the Cybertruck is admittedly far more radical. The Ridgeline is, like the Tesla, a unibody construction, designed to bridge the gap between a car and a pickup. Albeit with a more truck-referencing design aesthetic, the Ridgeline is a crossover that’s seen more as a lifestyle vehicle than a competitor to body-on-frame trucks from the Big 3. Honda was first to offer a vehicle in this segment but the Ridgeline has never been hugely popular. It’s a fringe vehicle selling in small numbers. Perhaps it’s got the wrong badge.

Honda Ridgeline Sport (2013)
First-generation Honda Ridgeline

The Tesla’s numbers do sound appealing, both from a price and performance perspective. I can think of a lot of vehicles that can’t get close to matching the Cybertruck’s space, versatility, and performance capability at its proposed starting price. But, again, the problem is Tesla hasn’t always kept to its promises when talking pricing and nearly all of its models have been plagued with long production delays. Anyone can plonk down $100 on a reservation. How many will actually take delivery?


The fact is that the Tesla Cybertruck does look like it was drawn using a ruler rather than ellipses; the angular vehicle’s exterior design is all straight lines, there are no curves at all. While it does appear to be a functional form, the execution is what bothers me most: it’s crude, rudimentary and military-like (more on that later).

The design takes every rule in the car design rulebook and shatters them. Proportions, volume, surfacing; they’re all scattered on the ground in a million pieces. Musk says Blade Runner – a film about slaves living in a dystopian futuristic society – inspired the Cybertruck’s form, but I wouldn’t bet against Brutalist 1960s-era architecture and some Mad Max imagery being placed on the mood board, too.

Tesla’s Cybertruck can seat six people in two rows of seats, has a deployable tonneau cover for the 6.5-foot bed and a tailgate that features an integrated ramp, should you wish to drive your four-wheeler into the bed. All of this was shown at the reveal, where Musk routinely drew comparisons to the Ford F-150. What they didn’t show you was Curtis Brubaker’s 1978 concept truck, which featured a near-identical rear-end design.

Truck concept by Curtis Brubaker (Penthouse magazine, 1978)
Curtis Brubaker’s concept truck | Penthouse magazine, 1978

The Tesla Cybertruck is billed as a prototype. That’s because things will change before it enters production. The US market is lenient in some respects but it’s not entirely without rules. The full-width headlamps may not meet regulations, there is seemingly no crumple zone and pedestrian impact was clearly an afterthought. The easiest things to fix are the door mirrors, which, by the time the truck goes into production, may not actually be needed.

Where Tesla has the upper hand is in weight. Cleverly, the Cybertruck could bypass crash testing if its weight surpasses the 10,000 lbs. mark (4,536 kg), and a further tax deduction can be made if the bed exceeds 6 feet in length. The light-duty truck category has been used as a loophole before: in the early 2000s, loads of people bought GM’s Hummer H2 as company cars because their GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) enabled half of their cost to be entirely written off as a business expense.

Anyone who works in the car industry knows weight is a killer for electric vehicles. It has the single most detrimental effect on range and performance. There couldn’t be more irony in producing an electric vehicle that tips the scales at over 10,000 lbs. In that same vein, anyone who’s done even a modicum of off-roading knows that weight is also a major burden. Lightness is key.

Perhaps what’s most frightening about this is what it means for the near future, because all eyes are on Tesla right now. I’m certain quite a few CEOs of fledgling electric car companies are going to turn to their design teams (or external design consultancies) and say: “Hey! Build me this!” as they have for other successful vehicles before.

The car industry is often said to be lacking forward thought or innovation. Yet as soon as something different comes around designers are quick to hate. So yes, it’s polarizing. But is it innovative? Well, no. This angular wedge treatment has been seen before, though never on a ‘truck’. And the reason I’ve chosen to punctuate ‘truck’ is because this can’t really be seen as one. As mentioned above, the Tesla Cybertruck is a lifestyle vehicle, akin to an SUV.

Lancia Stratos HF Zero concept
Wedge of Inspiration: Gandini’s Lancia Stratos HF


Tesla’s looked at the manufacturing process carefully in order to meet cost and timeline targets. The company’s Model X had long delays due to the complex rear gullwing door design and Tesla has learned from past mistakes. This time around it’s all about KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) manufacturing, which seems perfectly in tune with the type of vehicle the Cybertruck is.

The reason, we’ve been told, the Tesla Cybertruck looks the way it does is because stamping machines can’t handle the 3mm-thick panels. Musk has taken to Twitter saying the machines would break. So the design was adapted to make it work without that need. This will undoubtedly also save time and money.

The stainless steel panels also don’t require any paint. Their exposed silver sheen is durable and lends a rugged aesthetic. Importantly, this also negates the need for a paint booth, again saving time and reducing manufacturing cost.

In the case of manufacturing, the choices that Tesla’s designers and engineers have made become clearer. They’re working to a set of constraints to increase profitability significantly over any other vehicle the company has ever produced. The only area that seems to have had money spent on it is the interior.

Cultural and Social

At the unveiling of the Cybertruck, Musk and Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla’s Head of Design, touted the ruggedness of the truck and its capabilities, often comparing it to the venerable F-150. The body is apparently able to withstand being penetrated by a 9mm bullet and the glass made from the same armored material intended for use in space missions.

To illustrate the Cybertruck’s durability, von Holzhausen wielded a sledgehammer to the F-150’s door and also at the Cybertruck door. Good marketing stunt. I invite you to take a look at said stunt, however. When hitting the F-150 door, von Holzhausen puts his entire body into it. He damn near lifts himself off the ground. The ‘blow’ he subsequently gives the Cybertruck is far softer – it’s a love tap in comparison.

The armored glass is another fantastic stunt. Whether or not you believe it was intended to work or not, it got a reaction that gave the brand headlines for days. Apparently shareholders weren’t too impressed and Tesla’s stock value plummeted, causing Musk to lose over $760m. And you can bet your ass that someone got fired if that stunt wasn’t supposed to go down as it did.

But forget about the armored glass fiasco for a minute. It’s the notion that we should even need this that’s alarming. At a time when school shootings are rampant – causing me to re-evaluate whether I could ever see myself returning stateside with my kids – should we really be touting these types of attributes? What does this say about us culturally? As a society? Is this the message that Elon Musk and team want to send?

Ford F-150 vs Tesla Cybertruck
Workhorse vs Lifestyle vehicle

At the end of the day, Musk isn’t overly concerned with saving the planet or its people. Here’s a man who developed and sold a flamethrower and is looking to exploit Mars as a tourist destination. This is why Tesla’s marketing narrative isn’t about the environmental benefits afforded by electric vehicles, it’s about the technology and speed capabilities of the company’s products.

The verdict’s still out on whether Tesla can, in fact, gain a foothold in the most popular vehicle typology in the US. Whether or not there will be many customers for such a vehicle in Europe or China also remains to be seen. And while I do admire the sheer determination of Tesla to challenge the status quo and offer such a polarizing vehicle for sale, I’m not sure it’ll be as profitable for the company as it could have been.


Founded in 2012, Form Trends tirelessly covers the automotive design industry in all corners of the globe to bring you exclusive content about cars, design, and the people behind the products.