Tesla ushers in the electric pickup moment
Tesla unveiled its futuristic "Cybertruck" at an L.A. event on Thursday that was heavy on light shows, yet analysts remain in the dark about the future of electric pickups — and Tesla's role in it.
Why it matters: The event was the splashiest sign yesterday that automakers are moving closer to bringing electric models to the huge pickup market.
- But it wasn't the only one. Thursday, GM CEO Mary Barra said its planned electric pickup will go on sale in the fall of 2021.
- More broadly, the startup Rivian is also bringing an EV pickup to market, while Ford is electrifying the popular F-150 model (though its timeline is unclear).
Driving the news: Tesla's unveiling showed how the automaker's strategy is bringing something radically new to the scene and betting there's a market for it.
- "Trucks have been the same for a very long time, like a hundred years," CEO Elon Musk said on stage. "We want to try something different."
Our thought bubble, via Axios' Joann Muller: Those are famous last words for anyone trying to enter the pickup truck market. There's a reason pickups are designed the way they are; people use them as tools for work.
- Even Toyota, with deep enough pockets to reinvent the truck market if it wanted, hasn't been able to dent any of the top-selling pickups with its Tundra after 20 years.
The big picture: Tesla says production is slated to begin in late 2021, and a year later for the high-end version. There are three models:
- A base single-motor, rear-wheel-drive model starting at $39,900 with a 250-mile range; a dual-motor all-wheel-drive version with a 300-mile range that starts at $49,000; and a top-end "tri-motor" all-wheel-drive version that starts at $69,900 that can travel 500 miles on a full charge.
- The high-end model goes from 0-60 in 2.9 seconds and has a towing capacity north of 14,000 pounds, Tesla said. The base model tows at least 7,500 pounds and goes from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds.
What they're saying: "The looks are polarizing, but the performance and pricing specs are undeniable," Kelley Blue Book executive publisher Karl Brauer said in remarks circulated to reporters.
- Brauer sees plenty of demand among current Tesla owners, but predicts that "current pickup truck buyers will find its exterior design and electric drivetrain too far of a leap for most of them to make."
- But he sees a chance for the truck to move into the traditional consumer market if Tesla can build a lot of them and early adopters are "fully satisfied."
- "It misses the core truck buyer," Gene Munster of Loup Ventures tells Bloomberg. "A contractor is not going to show up to a worksite in this truck. That said, Tesla will still sell some of them."
The bottom line: In theory, the market for electric pickups is huge.
- Light-duty pickup sales are often in the 2-3 million per year range, sometimes accounting for nearly a fifth of overall light-duty vehicle sales.
- Maintaining or tapping into that market is an attractive thing for automakers.
Go deeper: What Tesla knows about you