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Tesla's electric truck flouts convention with angular design, armoured glass

With a starting price of $39,900 (£30,892), the Cyber truck is less expensive than initially flagged but its polarising design could limit sales in a segment symbolic of a rugged, practical American lifestyle.

Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk gestures while wrapping up his presentation of the newly unveiled all-electric battery-powered Tesla Cybertruck at Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, California on 21 November 2019. Picture: AFP

BENGALURU - Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) on Thursday unveiled its electric pickup truck with a futuristic angular body in gunmetal grey that looked like an armoured vehicle, as the California company took aim at the heart of Detroit automakers’ profits.

With a starting price of $39,900 (£30,892), the Cyber truck is less expensive than initially flagged but its polarising design could limit sales in a segment symbolic of a rugged, practical American lifestyle.

At a launch event in Los Angeles, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said other versions will be priced at $49,900 and $69,900 with the most expensive offering a range of more than 500 miles (800km). Production is expected to begin around late 2021.

“We need sustainable energy now. If we don’t have a pickup truck, we can’t solve it. The top three selling vehicles in America are pickup trucks. To solve sustainable energy, we have to have a pickup truck,” he said.

The truck’s hulking sharp geometric body was made from stainless steel, set atop massive tires and had windows made from armoured glass.

“It will be a niche product at best and poses no threat in the pickup market as we know it today,” wrote Matt DeLorenzo, senior executive editor at automotive research company Kelley Blue Book.

Musk claimed the truck’s “ultra-hard” exterior “won’t scratch and dent”. But the armoured glass window cracked like a spider web when hit with a metal ball during a demonstration. Musk appeared surprised although he noted the glass had not completely broken.

Reactions on Twitter ranged from love to hate.

“I just watched tesla release the #cybertruck and honestly? My life feels complete,” wrote @aidan_tenud, while @nateallensnyde wrote “Its nice to see Elon Musk make a cardboard box car he drew in kindergarten”.

Musk earlier tweeted the design was partly influenced by the Lotus Esprit sportscar that doubled as a submarine in the 1970s James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me.

The truck marks the first foray by Tesla, whose Model 3 sedan is the world’s top-selling battery-electric car, into pickup trucks, a market dominated by Ford Motor Co’s F-150, along with models by General Motors Co, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

FORD, GM GEAR UP TOO

Tesla’s focus on the high-performance end of the market is only natural given the success of Ford’s 450-horsepower F-150 Raptor truck, which launched in 2009 and whose sales have since risen annually, according to Ford spokesman Mike Levine.

While Ford does not disclose Raptor sales, Levine said annual demand is well above 19,000 vehicles and the No. 2 US automaker has never had to offer incentives on the model, which costs in the high $60,000 range. Ford also offers the more expensive F-150 Limited, its most powerful and luxurious pickup.

Ford and GM are also 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.

Demand for full-size electric pickup trucks in the near term may not be huge, however.

Industry tracking firm IHS Markit estimates the electric truck segment - both full- and mid-sized models - will account for about 75,000 sales in 2026, compared with an expected 3 million light trucks overall. The Tesla truck is not part of that estimate.

Ford aims to sell an electric F-series in late 2021, sources familiar with the plans said. It also will offer the Mach E next year as part of its plan to invest $11.5 billion by 2022 to electrify its vehicles.

In April, Ford invested $500 million in startup Rivian, which plans to build its own electric pickup beginning in fall 2020.

GM plans to build a family of premium electric pickup trucks and SUVs, with the first pickup due to go on sale in the fall of 2021. It plans to invest $8 billion by 2023 to develop electric and self-driving vehicles.

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