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Tesla unveils radical stainless-steel 'Cybertruck' pickup

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — Ford opened Los Angeles Auto Show media week with an electric Mustang Mach-E aimed at the Tesla Model Y. So it was only fitting that Tesla ended the week with a shot across the bow of Ford’s F-150.

Not just a shot — a sledgehammer.

Musk introduced an electric, $39,900 Tesla "Cybertruck" with an angular shape and retractable bed like something out of a Hollywood sci-fi movie. Indeed, Musk says it was inspired by “Blade Runner.”

With similar dimensions to a F-150, the Tesla claims a sub 3-second zero-60 mph time (the new mid-engine Corvette does a similar 2.9 seconds), along with a 6.5-foot bed, and a claimed 3,500-pound payload and 14,000-pound towing figure.

No sooner did the truck take to the stage at his Hawthorne Airport design headquarters than chief designer Franz von Holzhausen took a sledgehammer to its doors to prove its stainless-steel skin, made from the same stuff as Musk’s Space X rockets. Von Holzhausen then laid waste to a regular (Ford F-150?) pickup truck door.

Musk’s presentation was marred when his sledgehammer-wielding designer tried to shatter Tesla’s special “armor glass.” To the surprise of Musk, the glass broke.

“We’ll have to fix that,” the showman entrepreneur said.

The stainless-steel design is the central innovation of the Cybertruck — it's is built on a exoskeleton design instead of the traditional body-on-frame chassis found in other pickups from Ford to Chevy.

The stainless-steel design is the central innovation of the Cybertruck — it's is built on a exoskeleton design, Musk says.

“We want a truck that’s tough, not fake tough,” said Musk in a direct shot at Ford’s “Built Ford Tough” truck ads.

Armed with an air suspension, the Tesla will have 16 inches of ground clearance. Combined with a 35-degree approach and 28-degree departure angles, the truck, said Musk, will be a competitive Baja racer. Motor Trend magazine got an exclusive first look at the Cybertruck and predicts the suspension's 4 inches of travel couldmake it a formidable off-road machine.

The Tesla Cybertruck is unveiled at Tesla's design studio Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, in Hawthorne, Calif. CEO Elon Musk is taking on the workhorse heavy pickup truck market with his latest electric vehicle.

For all the cybertuck’s off-road physicality, Musk promised Porsche 911-like acceleration and a quiet interior, thanks to the electric motor’s quiet ride. Interior pictures of the four-door cab looks much like an enlarged Model 3 with a single, 17-inch screen fronting a kitchen-counter-sized horizontal dash. A yoke steering wheel is a different touch.

In his quest for a sustainable-energy world, Musk claims it's key that Tesla enter the pickup truck market — by far the biggest-volume sales segment.

The Tesla Cybertruck interior has a 17-inch screen.

The truck itself is minimalist as well with severe body stampings and only a horizontal line for headlights and a corresponding taillight out back. Musk demonstrated the sliding rear bed cover with an electric ATV that rode up on stage and into the exposed bed.

Musk said three versions of the battery-powered truck will be available starting at $39,900 with 250-mile range and rear-wheel-drive. That’s the median price of trucks in today’s market.

More capable trims include the 300-mile range, all-wheel drive, dual-motor model, and top-spec, 500-mile range, tri-motor. All will come standard with self-driving Autopilot.

Musk was short on details on when the pickup would enter production. But the Tesla website — now taking orders — says that customers will begin taking deliveries in the base model in late 2021. The tri-motor version won't come until 2022.

Other electric-truck makers are also entering the market, including the $70,000 Rivian and $125,000 Bollinger. But those trucks are not only more conventional than the Tesla, they look to be far more expensive.

While the Cybertruck’s massive battery will be heavy, Tesla's website claims a vehicle weight of 5,000 pounds. Motor Trend says the truck is wider than any pickup save the Ford F-150 Raptor.

The pickup market is intensely brand-loyal, but some truck enthusiasts will be intrigued by the battery-powered Tesla's inherent ability to put down 100% of torque for better traction and towing.

Tesla Cybertruck

Reaction was swift. "The Cybertruck hits all the right specs to be a competitive truck against the likes of F-150, Silverado, and Ram," said Andre Smirnov, managing editor of, a leading truck website. "But you have to like the sci-fi styling. If it reaches the market in late 2021, then it has a great opportunity to be a success."

Typical of Musk reveals — this is the sixth model he’s introduced — the event was boisterous and packed with Tesla employees. Enter Tesla in the truck wars.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.