Tesla launches new electric truck, taking aim at lucrative pickup market
Priced to compete with Ford's F-150, analysts say it will be tough to make the truck profitable
Tesla's highly anticipated unveiling of its futuristic pickup truck suffered a setback after its "armoured glass" windows shattered during a demonstration.
During the tightly choreographed unveiling of the Cybertruck to cheering fans on Thursday, Tesla boss Elon Musk had taken a stab at the design, power and durability of mainstream trucks, only to be shaken when his boast about his new truck's windows backfired.
With a starting price of $39,900 US, the Cybertruck's futuristic, angular body in gun-metal grey resembles an armoured vehicle and takes aim at the heart of Detroit automakers' profits.
Musk singled out the Ford F-150, the top-selling vehicle in the United States, to highlight the capabilities of the Cybertruck, showing an edited video of the two trucks in a back-to-back "tug-of-war" in which the Cybertruck takes off, dragging the F-150 behind it shortly after both trucks accelerate from starting position.
To show off the robust design of the new pickup, Musk enlisted his head of design, Franz von Holzhausen, to take a sledgehammer to the side of the vehicle, whose exterior will be made from the same stainless steel used in the Starship rocket developed by Musk's SpaceX aerospace company.
The crowd cheered when it bounced off the surface without leaving a mark.
But the truck's windows were not as fortunate, cracking like spiderwebs when von Holzhausen threw metal balls at them.
The blunder overshadowed the launch, which was live-streamed from Los Angeles and made #cybertruck a trending word on Twitter.
"Oh my … well, maybe that was a little too hard," Musk said, looking with surprise at the cracked driver's side window.
Still, he allowed von Holzhausen another throw to the rear passenger window, only to see that crack as well.
"It didn't go through, so that's a plus side" he said, adding: "Room for improvement."
Reactions on Twitter varied including some advice on product launch and planning.
"Never demonstrate something in a live audience, that you haven't tried repeatedly backstage," wrote @DrBenH, while @JustinParayno wrote "I see it as a positive because @elonmusk's decision to test it live hopefully will cause @Tesla to be more cautious and make sure the sold Trucks will not crack."
Others were more optimistic.
"I personally don't care that the glass shattered any other vehicle's glass would have broken down completely," wrote @Kev112301, while @erikwray posted "There will be hiccups and they'll get worked out. The #Tesla cars are amazing and only get better over time."
Will it make money at that price?
Ahead of the launch, analysts speculated on the profitability of the Tesla offering.
"Making an electric pickup truck that sells in the same price range as an F-150 and making it profitable will be tough," said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at Auto Forecast Solutions.
Ford and larger rival General Motors Co. are gearing up to challenge Tesla more directly with new offerings like the Ford Mustang Mach E electric SUV as well as electric pickups.
Electric pickups 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.
Pricier trucks also offer carmakers a better chance to generate profit from their electric battery investments, Fiorani said.
GM announces date for its electric truck
General Motors also announced that its electric truck will go on sale in the fall of 2021.
"General Motors understands truck buyers and ... people who are new coming into the truck market," Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra said at an investor conference in New York on Thursday. "It will be a very capable truck, I'm pretty excited about it."
The No. 1 U.S. automaker has so far given few details on its planned line of electric pickup trucks.
Reuters reported last month that GM plans to build a new family of premium electric pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant beginning in late 2021, possibly reviving the imposing Hummer brand on some of them.
Until now, the automaker had not given a date for when its first electric pickup truck would hit the market.
Pickup trucks are one of the most profitable vehicle segments in the world. The U.S. market is dominated by GM, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV
Ford also intends to sell an electric F-series pickup truck in late 2021, sources familiar with the plans have said.