When the Tesla Cybertruck was revealed, my gut reaction — like a lot of people's — was not positive, even though I generally enjoy bold car design and love many wedgie, edgy sports cars and concepts. So for the past few weeks I've been staring at Tesla's stainless-steel wonder, trying to figure out what it's missing. I've found a few areas that let the design down, but also a sense that the overall structure has promise.
1. It's oversimplified
It's trying to be minimalistic — but it comes off as crude. Compare it to the Kode 0 shown below, which isn't just a straight wedge. Look closely, and you can see a very light arch to its profile, and nearly every body panel has a little bit of curvature. It even has round wheel arches. It still has a futuristic and angular shape, but those subtle curves give it a finished, sophisticated look. Someone clearly did much more than assemble some flat sheets of steel and glass.
By contrast, the Cybertruck's unbroken planes look bulky or unfinished. An example is the tailgate. Areas like this could really benefit from some detail. Perhaps an extra crease or two, or some sections of different materials or textures. Spelling out the Tesla name would be a great option — the Tesla logo font has an angular, minimal look that's a perfect complement to the Cybertruck's overall design. Small details like these would add welcome visual interest and make it look more like a finished product.
2. It has unresolved and awkward lines
When a design is this simplified, any details that don't mesh perfectly stand out. One example is the intersection of the front bumper, fender flares and the panel that would house a grille if it were an internal combustion car. It even looks like the fender flare was given a quick hack at the end to get it to fit on the truck. It's a busy corner, with several lines all intersecting seemingly more by chance than on purpose.
Another incongruous area is the greenhouse. The front and rear windows are almost perfectly flush with the steel. So seeing the side windows sunken into the doors is jarring. Obviously the windows have to be able to roll down, but most modern cars have windows that are within millimeters, not inches, of the edges of the pillars. If, for some reason, it's not possible to bring the glass out farther, Tesla could potentially make the angle from the window to the sheetmetal less abrupt. The fender flares similarly seem to jut out from the body and look thin. This doesn't fit with the chunky, faceted design. Having a wider angle from the metal to the plastic would help them look less tacked-on.
3. It's impractical
A truck's utility is its purpose for existing, even nowadays when many trucks don't haul much more than a family sedan could. And though Tesla's fastback bed is striking, there are reasons most trucks have a simple rectangular bed, and one that's separate from the cab rather than part of a unibody. That basic shape allows for relatively easy access to the bed at any point around the sides. When loading cargo in the front of the bed, you shouldn't need to climb a ladder or to jump up into the bed to reach it. The simple shape is also very accommodating of all variety of accessories such as toolboxes, utility racks, truck caps and more.
Certainly there's some variation that aftermarket companies have to adjust to, but it's simpler to make something a little wider or taller than figuring something out for a different shape altogether. And having a separate bed allows for easy upfitting with unique sections such as utility boxes or even ambulance or bus sections. I don't doubt that some amount of accessories will be available for the Tesla Cybertruck, Tesla even showcased concept accessories. But the shape does limit aftermarket opportunities, and the Cybertruck almost certainly won't make inroads with commercial buyers or people who use their trucks for traditional work. As Paul Galloway of the Museum of Modern Art says in the article that accompanies this one, “Farmers don't need a ‘nearly impenetrable exoskeleton’ or ‘armor glass.’" What they need is plain old usability.
Credit where it's due
Even though the Cybertruck has issues, I have come to appreciate it more. In particular, it's fun to see the extreme lines and angles of old supercars adapted to what could become a mass-market vehicle. It does have some clever functional details, too, particularly the ramp tailgate. We haven't seen anything like that since the Chevy Corvair rampside pickup of the 1960s. Basically, the Cybertruck is a solid starting point. With refinement, it could become a significant piece of automotive design — and because the truck as presented was missing key production details such as windshield wipers, side mirrors and corner reflectors, Tesla is surely refining it at this very moment.