Tesla’s Cybertruck may spell the end of Big Tech minimalism — if it ever gets here

When Elon Musk first unveiled Tesla’s Cybertruck its design was shocking. Bulky and angular, the electric pick-up truck looked weird and impractical. Watching the live event in late 2019, I assumed this was strictly one for the superfans. But over the past three years pre-orders are estimated to have exceeded 1mn. The Cybertruck is proof that many of us are ready for something new.

For years, a polite, Apple-lite aesthetic has dominated the products made by Big Tech companies. We are surrounded by smooth, rounded edges and muted colour palettes. You can see it in smartphones, smart speakers, home robots, driverless cars, watches and other gadgets. It has carried over to the virtual reality headsets that are being prepped for launch in 2023.

In a world of restrained design, the Cybertruck’s brutalism comes as a relief. No, it doesn’t look particularly practical for driving along the busy streets of London or New York. Yes, it has been compared to a grey door wedge. But at least it doesn’t look the same as everything else.

Things weren’t always this way. In the early 2000s, Apple was known for its brightly coloured personal computers. Fluorescent colours and chunky designs were popular in phones and gaming devices. But just as homeowners became enamoured with pared back Scandi interiors, minimalism grew more popular in personal tech. Depending on your taste the result is either pleasing uniformity or dull conformity.

The hegemony of Apple design has been blamed for contributing to what n+1 magazine describes as the “insubstantial, the flat, and the grey” of mid-century modern design. The reality is that the design philosophy was widely adopted because it was popular. Then it grew boring. Something similar appears to be happening to the TV shows funded by major streaming services. Vice magazine notes that most Netflix shows are shot in a conventional, medium close up. This means that many shows have a similar look, no matter the content.

The Cybertruck is different. There was nothing dull about its unveiling, during which Musk boasted about its spacecraft material and armoured glass windows then watched as his chief designer accidentally smashed one of those windows. Nor was it boring when Musk was videoed by TMZ driving one of the trucks around LA a few days later, knocking over a bollard as he left celebrity restaurant Nobu.

Unfortunately, the Cybertruck is still MIA. When it was first shown to the public, Musk said production would start in late 2021. By September last year there was still no truck, though there were tweeted claims that it would have the ability to float. Dates are still being pushed back. In a call with investors in October, Musk said Tesla was “in the final lap” and that production would start in the middle of 2023.

Producing the Cybertruck would go some way towards proving that Tesla is still on track — even if it has not managed to get them out before Ford launched its own electric pick-up truck.

The sharp drop in Tesla’s share price ratchets up the pressure. Investor dismay over the time Musk is spending fiddling about with Twitter, plus an already stretched valuation and company warnings about shortages, have led to a share price down two-thirds over the past 12 months. In the fourth quarter of 2022, Tesla sales were up nearly a third on the previous year. It was not enough. The figure was below expectations and the share price kept on falling. Investment research firm CFRA says Cybertruck deliveries would help to justify a $225 share price — around $100 more than Tesla shares currently change hands for.

When the trucks will appear and what they will cost is unclear. But you can still pay a $100 deposit to pre-order one (plus $40 for a T-shirt memorialising the shattered glass during the unveiling). The Tesla website says that the final price will be sent when the unspecified delivery date nears. One crowdsourced tally puts the total number of pre-orders at 1.7mn. Given deposits are refundable, not all of those orders will equal a truck sale. But it is a marker of popularity.

Unsurprisingly a lot of the people who want to own Cybertrucks live in San Francisco and work in tech. I know two who put down deposits for the vehicle back in 2019. Both say they still want to buy a truck. Neither seems particularly fussed that they have yet to hear when that might happen. Like any fandom, defending the idea to vocal naysayers comes with the Cybertruck territory.


Business Asia
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