Tesla Cybertruck debuts with cheeky Porsche-bashing ad, but faces real world battles

Published Dec 1, 2023


One thing's for sure, Elon Musk likes to make a statement, even if it doesn’t always meet logical scrutiny.

And that’s exactly what he did with the market launch of the battery powered Cybertruck four years after the first prototype was unveiled. Better late than never, right?

The outlandish looking battery-powered pick-up, or bakkie as we like to call them in his birth country, debuted with an amusing video broadcast across social media channels, showing it taking on a Porsche 911, which appears to be a Carrera T model, in a drag race.

Not only did the Tesla beat the German sports car, but there’s a twist at the end where we see it performed the feat while towing another 911.

— Tesla (@Tesla) November 30, 2023

Nice one, Tesla. You sure got the world’s attention. And we hate to be a stick in the mud, but perhaps it would have been a bit more fair if you’d lined it up against a Porsche Taycan Turbo S, which if we’re going with the manufacturer claims, matches the range-topping Tesla’s 0-60mph (96km/h) acceleration time of 2.6 seconds.

Tesla refers to this tri-motor version as the “Cyberbeast” and it’s good for 630kW, albeit with over three tonnes of pick-up to lug around. Despite this, it manages a towing capacity of just under five tonnes, which is more than three Porsche 911s.

Tesla’s website claims a driving range of 515km between charges for this model, but says it will cover up to 708km when the optional range-extending external batteries are on board and plugged in.

Tesla also offers a tamer All-Wheel Drive Cybertruck model, with 4.1 second acceleration and a slightly longer range of 547km (756 with extender), and there’s a Rear-Wheel Drive base version good for a 6.5 second sprint and 402km range.

A gloating Elon Musk hosted an event on Thursday to mark the launch of the production model and its first customer deliveries.

"It's very rare that a product comes along that is seemingly impossible... that experts said would never be made," a giddy Musk told a crowd at Tesla's Austin, Texas headquarters. "And this is one of those times."

Analysts had called the Cybertruck a high-risk project compared with Tesla's other vehicles.

The starting price is also $10,000 (R188,200) higher than the original target, owing to higher supply chain costs and manufacturing problems stemming from its radical design.

A standard Cybertruck model, available in 2025, costs $49,000 (R922,180) while the "Cyberbeast" will set clients back by $96,390 (R1,8 million).

In recent months, Musk has sought to limit expectations over the vehicle's commercial potential, warning in October it would be "incredibly difficult" to commercially scale the truck."

Musk caused a stir in November 2019 with the prototype of the Cybertruck, generating curiosity and buzz even if it wasn't universally loved.

After a brief presentation Thursday in which the Cybertruck was shown withstanding a barrage of bullets from a military weapon and successfully towing a 18,140kg sled, Musk posed for pictures with smiling customers who drove off in their new trucks.

"This is really going to change the look of the roads," Musk said.

The Cybertruck is hard to build

But the vehicle's unusual styling, which employs large flat plates of unbent stainless steel, poses challenges in manufacturing, said Art Wheaton, an expert on transportation industries at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

"It may look cool, but it's extremely difficult to manufacture successfully," Wheaton said.

The vehicle drew a scathing appraisal from progressive magazine The American Prospect, which warned that stainless steel was prone to rusting and that the stiff material could prove especially deadly in car crashes.

Instead of focusing on building more affordable EVs, Tesla "wasted four years and billions of dollars on Elon Musk's adolescent video game fantasy," the magazine said. "It turns out megalomaniac, conspiracy-brained billionaires are not the key to a zero-carbon transportation future."

Musk has warned that the ramp-up of the vehicle will take time, reaching 250,000 a year in 2025.

Wheaton is skeptical the Cybertruck will be a big seller in part because of the "polarizing" design.

But he said Cybertruck could still be a success for Musk even if it turns out to be a niche product, by luring customers to the brand. Wheaton likened the effect to the Chevrolet Corvette, which does not account for huge sales but draws buyers to other GM vehicles.

"It works as a kind of attention-grabber," he predicted.