Why is the Tesla Cybertruck designed the way it is?

An exploration into the truck’s polarising design

Any design usually has its lovers and haters. Remember the Apple AirPods? But, more often than not, they either become a commercial hit after becoming an icon or they become a source of study for the future to learn how not to design something.

The Tesla Cybertruck’s design seems to many (including me at the beginning) as something that was picked up right out of a kids sketchbook. But, I think we can all agree that Elon Musk must’ve had some thinking behind this radical design. I’ve tried to bring about various aspects that influenced the Cybertruck’s design through some facts and my opinions.

Pickup trucks over the years

To begin with, this is the graphic of Ford F series pickup trucks over the last ten decades.

Images from Google Images
Images from Google Images

I think it is pretty clear that the design of Pickup Trucks have not had a design refresh in that 100 years. Yes, one hundred years. That’s quite sad. Besides additions of slight curves or add-ons aided by advancements in other fields, there hasn’t been a significant design refresh for a really long time.

Note that Ford F series pickups have been the industry leaders for a really long time and most competitors look the…..

SAME.

I’d be very surprised if someone saw a difference in their design from a single glance. This, similar, bulky looking design is resonated across other competitors as well. Moreover, the variation in their tech is marginal and can often be upgraded either with the company or in the aftermarket.

This design monotony has led consumers over time become loyal to a brand rather than a look because there’s never much of a design change. As Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) had mentioned in his video on why he ordered the Cybertruck, most people who owned a Ford F150 Pickup Truck, just went onto buy the F150 again 5 years later and remained in the same loop forever. There’s not a strong necessity to switch to another brand and the above image demonstrates it pretty clearly, I think.

Bring in the constraints

Now, let’s assume, being Tesla, you’re about to break into a 81 Billion USD pickup truck market which is filled with very similar looking vehicles. I think, the answer is pretty clear — you need to bring in a car that looks like no other.

That would be the first of maaaany constraints that Tesla needs to work with. Besides that, a few of them would’ve been,

  • Quantities don’t match the number of Fords/Chevys manufactured, so cost of manufacturing should be low
  • Features should be equal and more than the competitors
  • Materials should be chosen as to ensure it can handle a good beating and can last for a long time

With these criteria, and Elon Musk’s love for radical thinking, Tesla chose to lean into an extremely crazy design and, the best part, they chose to embrace it. Below is a demonstration of the same.

However, beyond the communication itself, the car’s design is something that has turned the eyes of so many, some with love and some with heavy distaste.

Digging into the constraints, Tesla made some choices. They re-thought the design of the vehicle right from the fundamentals and made some calls which led to this design.

First call, Material and frame

The choice of material was Ultra-Hard 30X Cold-Rolled stainless-steel in its bare form for the structure and they decided to design the car with an exoskeleton rather than the traditional body-on-frame. In other words — the exoskeleton means than the body and the frame are one and the same unlike the body-on-frame where the body is separate piece that is mounted on a frame.

One of the most significant advantages of this kind of frame structure is availability of space which can be used to store the battery packs and other equipment.

The advantages of this material is that it is avoids dents and long-term corrosion. The many advantages of this frame design is, lesser manufacturing, lesser assembly, and no paint jobs. This automatically makes the process a little greener — which is definitely more brownie points for Tesla.

Second call, design of the body

The body’s design was, in my opinion, heavily driven by two important factors : A dire need to be different and a dire need to be cost-efficient in manufacturing. These two constraints automatically lead to a simple solution — A radical design that can be manufactured cheaply.

The simple plate like design where the material can be stamped using machine is a great bonus in saving costs. Also, as confirmed by Elon Musk in one of his tweets, the ultra-hard 30x steel is extremely hard to press let alone bend. (Talk about unexpected advantages!) Even bending it requires a deep score, making the whole process arduous. But that also means, to ensure that the planar areas don’t buckle under compression, they have to be thicker, thus this will add to the overall weight.

The need to counter this weight is what has lead to that pointy top end of the car which seems to be be freaking out everybody. In physics, while learning about structures and force distributions, one of the most common things we learn is that triangles are fantastic weight (load and tension) distributors across any system. This is the fundamental principle behind this design too.

The top pointy end is one corner of the triangle and one side of the triangle is the windshield segment, the other being the one that leads to the rear end, and the other side being the base of the truck itself.

The most common application of the triangular distribution of forces around us in the physical world in a large scale are truss bridges which are very common around us. Examples:

Source : Google Images
Source : Google Images

By this part of the design, I am sure, Tesla had already arrived at a very crazy design and I am sure they must’ve sat at a round table and said, “Let’s take it all the way boys”.

Here is a render, which I found on Reddit shared by u/obeymyrules if the Cybertruck had been designed like the other pickups:

Third call, embrace the design fully

At this point, I believe there are two striking features that give the car its completely out-worldly look.

Headlights —

Simple single bar headlight that is quite like no other car on the market.

Rear —

This crazy cover for the rear can roll itself over inside and pretend like it was never there.

Besides these calls, there were a bunch of fantastic design designs they’ve paid attention to which are just truly lovely. I will mention a few of them below:

Taillights even when opened. Spaces and grooves for hooks and ropes. Not demonstrated in the picture, but even the addition of a charging port at the rear.

MORE SPACE. Even inside the rear.

Ramp for easily on-boarding Tesla ATVs or other other items. It is also worthy to mention the adaptive air-suspension system at this point that can essentially convert the Cybertruck into an off-roading beast( with high ground clearance) from a highway cruiser (with low ground clearance).

My thoughts on the overall design

The design is a clear example of form follows function. And that is a clearly big plus for me. A design refresh is very interesting. Am glad about that as well. The design continued to grow on me in the last couple of days and I am sure it has on many others as well. (Elon Musk just tweeted that as of today, they have 200k pre-bookings… well…)

Could it have been designed any other way? Sure. But the constraints explained above convinced me well enough that this particular design is pretty cool and well-thought.

The futuristic design has been embraced fully right from the exterior to the interior and even in the communication of the product (such as the red cyberpunky text even in the launch keynote)— which I feel is a fantastic call. On whether it would be a commercial hit, I am not entirely sure. The Cybertruck is a classic example of a design disruptor and it has done that very very well.

A few concerns nevertheless

  • About the crumpling space — the space which is present in the car for it to absorb the impact upon collision and not transfer it to the passengers— Tesla hasn’t talked much about it. I suppose we will get to know in the future.
  • About the rear-view mirrors — Where are they?
  • About the availability of colours

All Rights Reserved for Dheeraj Nanduri

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