February 22, 2024

Musk’s Cybertruck is already a production nightmare for Tesla

The Cybertruck isn’t even on the market yet and Elon Musk is already complaining that Tesla has dug its own grave.

The stainless steel body may be able to withstand bullets and arrows, but it’s going to be a bear putting the panels together. It will be Tesla’s first high-voltage vehicle, which offers the advantage of faster charging, but also potential pitfalls. And it will be Tesla’s only product that relies on internal battery cells that are years behind schedule.

In these and other respects, the Cybertruck will be a big step backwards from the way Tesla has progressed in its approach to car production. The last vehicle Musk spoke about in the way he described the Cybertruck was the Model

“Model “That’s a terrible strategy. You really want to start simple and add things over time.”

The emphasis on simplicity and design for ease of production served Tesla well with its next product, the Model 3 sedan, and the successful Model Y SUV that followed. The two were the first electric vehicles to break into the mainstream, making Tesla by far the most valuable automaker and its CEO the richest man in the world.

When the Model 3 began production in 2017, Musk noted that it wouldn’t have “all the bells and whistles” like the Model X, which had double-hinged doors and floating second-row seats.

Last month, during the same earnings call in which Musk referred to Tesla digging its own grave, Musk warned that the Cybertruck “has a lot of bells and whistles.”

Tesla could ultimately overcome what its CEO has described as enormous challenges to making the Cybertruck in high volumes, and without burning cash. But Musk himself estimates that this will take 12 to 18 months of “blood, sweat and tears.” He also says Tesla is unlikely to reach annual production of 250,000 Cybertrucks sometime in 2025.

Before the company begins deliveries to Cybertruck on November 30, one analyst has gone so far as to suggest the company should cancel the vehicle, saying it would likely be positive for Tesla stock.

“When Elon Musk says things are going to be tough, listen,” said Stephanie Brinley, associate director at S&P Global Mobility.

Musk has called the Model “Probably something like this will never be made again, and maybe it won’t,” he said in January 2019.

Ten months later, Musk took the stage at Tesla’s design center in Hawthorne and told a crowd of fans that pickup trucks have all looked more or less the same for the past century. The company wanted to try something different, he said.

Minutes later, the vehicle rolling onto the stage through smoke, flashing lights and fireballs met the CEO’s expectations like something out of the science fiction film Blade Runner. The Cybertruck’s triangular roof, angular exterior, and transparent metal glass that shattered during a botched demo immediately became the stuff of memes.

Tesla started taking deposits for the truck and listed starting prices ranging from $39,900 to $69,900. The company initially said deliveries would begin no earlier than the end of 2021. Around the time it was set to start delivering the pickup to customers, Tesla removed Cybertruck’s pricing and specs from its website and hasn’t restored them since.

Stainless steel

A key reason why the company took two years longer than expected to begin deliveries was the decision to coat the vehicle with an ultra-hard stainless steel alloy, which Musk said his rocket company SpaceX would also use for Starship, the launch vehicle that is designed to one day reach Mars. .

Although stainless steel is corrosion resistant and does not require painting, it can be expensive and difficult to form and weld together. It is also often heavier than steel commonly used for most car and truck bodies.

In late August – three months before Tesla’s planned start of deliveries – Musk wrote an email to Tesla employees that was leaked to an online forum. “Due to the nature of Cybertruck, which is made of bright metal with mostly straight edges, any dimensional variation shows up like a sore thumb,” the CEO noted. He ordered that all parts for the vehicle be designed and built to an accuracy of less than 10 microns, or 10 millionths of a meter.

When Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen showed up at a car enthusiast event in Southern California early this month with a Cybertruck prototype, photos quickly emerged of misaligned fender flares and panel gaps so wide you could slip a finger through them. could sting.

“The problems that are very apparent with the Cybertruck are problems with the concept itself,” says Eric Noble, president of CarLab, an automotive product and design consultancy. “The market wasn’t asking for a stainless steel finish, a crazy bed configuration, a crazy roofline or a weird side view. These are all answers to a question that the pickup market was not asking.”

800 volt architecture

Tesla announced last month that it would use an 800-volt architecture for the Cybertruck, citing the cost savings it brings for heavy-duty vehicles.

This will be a first for the company’s consumer vehicles, although it’s not uncharted territory. Porsche launched an 800-volt system in 2019 with the Taycan electric sports car. Hyundai has also offered one on the Ioniq 5, allowing the SUV to absorb electricity faster.

Although other manufacturers have made it happen, the switch will come with some risks and costs.

“You’re changing a lot of things: the charging infrastructure, the entire vehicle system,” Drew Baglino, Tesla’s senior vice president of powertrain and energy, said in April 2022.

“The benefits are small and the costs are high,” Musk added during the same earnings call. “Years from now, will it make sense to switch to an 800-volt architecture? Probably. But it really takes a very large vehicle volume to cover the costs of switching from 400 to 800 volts.”

4680 cells

Another risk factor for the Cybertruck has to do with batteries.

In September 2020, Musk hosted an event to highlight several innovations Tesla was working on, including thicker, bulkier battery cells. Baglino said at the time that the company would get a 16% range improvement from the new form factor alone (the 4680 batteries are 46 millimeters in diameter and 80 millimeters high).

Tesla has struggled to scale up production of 4680 batteries, which in turn has held up products like the Cybertruck and Semi. Nearly a full year after hosting a delivery event related to the Semi a year ago, the company is still making the vehicle in low volumes, and only for PepsiCo, its original customer, Deutsche Bank analysts wrote in a Nov. 14 report , citing meetings with Tesla’s head of investor relations.

When asked during an earnings call last month how many Cybertruck deliveries he expected in 2024, Musk hesitated.

“If you want to do something radical and innovative, and something really special like the Cybertruck, it’s extremely difficult because there’s nothing to copy,” he said. “You not only have to invent the car, but also the way to make the car. So the more unknown the area, the less predictable the outcome.”

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