If there’s one thing Elon Musk loves doing more than anything else, it’s trolling people. He literally bought his favorite trolling platform on social media.
Much of what we see of Musk and his companies are jokes and trolls. But internally, this joking aside, Musk’s visions and reality aren’t always compatible, especially with his biggest troll yet: The Tesla Cybertruck.
Musk named his drilling company Boring Inc. Tesla models to date are the S, 3, X and Y. And his famous SpaceX tweet congratulating NASA for crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is legend with his fans.
Then comes the Cybertruck, the only potential Tesla vehicle to have an actual name.
The Cybertruck is straight out of the movie “Blade Runner,” and Musk has made several references to it. When the truck was officially unveiled as a prototype in 2019, it happened at the SpaceX HQ in Los Angeles, which is where “Blade Runner” was set, down to the date (Nov. 19, 2019, LA).
Of course, that unveiling event didn’t go entirely as planned. As Musk revved up the hype machine for the new, angular, bare metal truck to the audience, he touted plans for its various capabilities, including being “bulletproof.”
That last one bit him hard as a meme-worthy event of his assistant throwing a metal sphere through the glass shattered Musk’s on-stage image for the truck. His attempt to laugh it off fell flat and the bulletproof truck with broken windows remained on stage for the rest of his presentation.
Later, much of the rest of Musk’s tall orders for the truck also began to splinter.
The initial promised delivery date was “late 2021.” That, obviously, was delayed (citing the COVID-19 excuse that most companies were using). Several delays later, it’s 2023 and we’re not likely to see the Cybertruck this year either. Currently, “limited production” is slated for late this year with full production happening in 2024.
New information shows that 2024 is probably also not realistic. Leaked documents from Tesla engineers were received by the German news magazine Handelsblatt.
The “Tesla Files,” as they’ve become known, contained a lot of information about many of the goings on at Tesla, including a lot of internal correspondence about the Cybertruck. In particular, a Jan. 25, 2022, report in those documents listed a host of issues with the “Alpha-stage” prototype of the Tesla Cybertruck.
In Tesla-speak, “alpha” means “first workable stage” as it would with software. So, this report was referring to an early version of the prototype that should be close to the actual production model. Tesla was still using an early-stage prototype after it had initially been slated for production. Telling.
Many of the problems that the Cybertruck was exhibiting at the time of that report are basic issues that should have been resolved when it was still in the virtual prototype (“discovery”) stage. Things that should have been nearly dialed in before a tangible mockup was even produced.
Those things include handling, noise and sealing issues. The first is fundamental, the other two are things that get ironed out in the prototype stages. But by the end of the final prototype, all of this should be near non-issues. Not big problems.
Tesla’s vehicles already have a history of leaks: door seals, trunk opening, body gaps. All have been problems for Tesla since the company’s first fully self-made vehicles left the factory. They persist today.
With the Cybertruck, the unusual body design and large stature of the truck have complicated those problems. The issues given in the report for this leaking aren’t things that the final tweaks in body and paint can remedy. They’re going to be early production line issues instead.
Noise problems follow along with those leaks. The shape of the Cybertruck and its general design will mean it probably cannot be whisper quiet in the cabin, no matter how much foam stuffing is done to prevent it.
Anything the size and angular shape of the Cybertruck is going to be noisy. Most trucks are, so some noise can be forgiven here. But Tesla’s engineers in that report made it sound like even the most rad stereo system wouldn’t cover up the decibels produced by the Cybertruck.
Then we come to the most fundamental issue: handling.
This term covers a lot of things with a vehicle. It encompasses steering, body roll, stopping power and stability at various speeds. According to the leaked report at Handelsblatt, the Cybertruck handles like a World War II tank. That might sound like fun, but having driven several tank models (including a Sherman), I can tell you that you don’t want to do that every day.
The Cybertruck’s issues with handling are things that should have been largely resolved in computer modeling and then refined with early prototypes.
Instead, the truck is in its late stages of development and still experiencing “excessive mid-speed abruptness and chop” (a complicated way of saying it bounces a lot) and “high head-toss accelerations” and “structural shake.”
Those basically mean it lifts the nose when accelerating and shimmies while doing so. It’s not good at low speeds either, having “lateral jerk” during maneuvering.
And finally, the much-touted crab-walk feature Musk talked about with the Cybertruck is barely functional at all. That’s something the company can’t afford to do poorly given that GMC’s Hummer EV has already shown how well this can be done.
Then there’s stopping power. The engineers wrote that the goal Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) braking score was a 7, which is basically the minimum to be considered safe. Those engineers are saying it might get a 4 at best. And that’s with every type of tested braking scenario.
These handling problems, according to the report, are almost all due to the basic design of the Cybertruck and its chassis. Significant changes to the front suspension would need to be done to counter these problems. But those changes could have other consequences for the truck that may change other parameters.
In short, the handling issues engineers are finding with the late-stage model of the Cybertruck are things that should have been largely worked out with computer modeling and only refined with physical prototypes. Instead, they are big issues late in the game with the alpha prototype that should be nearing production readiness.
All of this means that the Tesla Cybertruck doesn’t seem to be ready to go.
This report is 18 months old, so the fixes could have been implemented by now, but only if the engineers have been working around the clock to do so. The fact that the “alpha” version of the Cybertruck was having these kinds of issues, though, speaks volumes about what the new pickup may or may not be.
Rumors say that the Cybertruck is already in production at Tesla’s Texas factory. Odd, given that the Cybertruck’s website still just has computer renderings showing.
My prediction is that Tesla will release the Cybertruck, eventually, and get the initial splash from it. But loss of consumer interest after some have experienced this monstrosity will ultimately kill it in terms of longer-term sales. Elon will, however, laugh this off since the Cybertruck is clearly just another one of his trolls.
The Cybertruck’s best hope is that it ends up like the DeLorean: a car that was horribly under-designed, but which has received cult status despite the questionable antics of is CEO.