It’s been less than two weeks since Tesla CEO Elon Musk (in)famously unveiled the Tesla Cybertruck. To describe public reaction as polarizing is a massive understatement, with comments ranging from “absolutely amazing” to “absolutely hideous”–and not much in between.
If you’re like me, you were at first in disbelief that Musk would launch the Cybertruck with its current design. I even questioned if Tesla executives were afraid to push back on Musk’s ideas, or if Musk would listen if they did.
Musk knows exactly what he’s doing. He made the Cybertruck “ugly” on purpose, and it just may be the smartest thing he’s ever done.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
In the days following Cybertruck’s launch, the saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder kept ringing in my head. My initial reaction to the truck was visceral: Yes, I thought it was ugly. But more than that, I was amazed that anyone would actually like the audacious design.
At the same time, though, I began to appreciate what Musk had done.
Pickup truck design hasn’t changed significantly in over a hundred years, since the days of the Ford Model TT. Add to that the fact that truck owners tend to be brand loyal, and Musk and company faced a formidable challenge: To make any significant impact on the pickup truck market, they had to come up with something different.
“There are literally millions of people who buy a Ford F150. Then, five years later, they buy another Ford F150, and then, six, seven years later, they buy another Ford F150,” explained famous tech reviewer Marques Brownlee on YouTube. “And so if you come out with a new Tesla pickup truck that looks kind of just like the Ford F150, and instead of an engine it has a battery and some motors and a Tesla logo on it, they’re not going to buy it. Just like they didn’t buy the other competition that kind of looks like it. They’re just going to buy another F150.”
So, Musk and Tesla took a bold risk. They completely redesigned what a truck should look like, from the ground up. And they came up with a design like nothing anyone had ever seen, outside of science fiction and video games.
Undoubtedly, Musk knew many lots of people would call it ugly.
He knew lots of people would hate it.
But after just two weeks, it’s become obvious that Tesla’s Cybertruck design is brilliant, for two simple reasons.
Form follows function.
The more people learned about the Cybertruck, the more they appreciated what it can do.
The utility Cybertruck offers is currently unmatched, including:
- up to 14,000 pounds of towing capacity (tri-motor version);
- 120- and 240-volt outlets that can be used to supply power tools without use of a generator;
- an on-board air compressor;
- adaptive air suspension;
- a motorized roll-out cover that secures the bed, which Tesla calls “the vault”;
- a special tie-down system that allows you to insert anchor or mounting points in various positions; and
- the ability to go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 2.9 seconds (tri-motor version), 4.5 seconds (dual-motor), or 6.5 seconds (single-motor rear-wheel drive)
Then, there’s the exterior–made of the same stainless steel used in the Starship rocket developed by SpaceX. It’s bullet-proof, resistant to 9mm bullets.
Also remember that when it comes to strength, the triangle rules supreme–and the Cybertruck is basically one huge triangle. Not to mention that designing the vehicle this way allows Tesla to cut down massively on production costs, achieving an entry-level price point of $40,000.
Over time, the Cybertruck design is becoming a symbol of its superior utility, intelligence, and cost–and that makes it beautiful in the eyes of many.
It looks like the future.
Traditionally speaking, consumers hate change.
Remember when tons of people scoffed at the first iPhone because it didn’t have a physical keyboard? There was similar ridicule at the form factor of AirPods. But fast-forward a few years, and the iPhone and AirPods have become bestsellers.
I personally really disliked the look of the Cybertruck when I first saw it. But since then, a funny thing happened. In a matter of days, the looks have grown on me.
But how could this be? How could I now appreciate something I literally thought was a joke just a few days ago?
Brand and marketing strategist Mike Gastin nailed exactly why this has happened for countless people. He describes the Cybertruck as a “masterstroke” of branding, and says it helps define Tesla’s brand promise:
Delivering the future, today.
“I think the genius of what Elon Musk and Tesla are doing right now with the Cybertruck is they are rolling out what would have in the past been a concept car,” says Gastin. “But they are selling it as a production vehicle. You look at the design of this vehicle and it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
This is absolutely right, and it touches on what may be the most important point of this launch.
The Cybertruck is a game-changer.
With the Cybertruck, Musk isn’t trying to come in and steal 1 or 2 percent market share.
Instead, he’s created a brand new market.
Yes, the Cybertruck is different enough to lure away truck owners who appreciate its utility. But far more than that, it will appeal to consumers who never would have bought a traditional truck.
It will appeal to technology enthusiasts who want a larger vehicle, along with more storage and safety. For many, it could replace the purchase of a minivan or an SUV.
And that’s why we’re seeing such enthusiasm for this vehicle–to the tune of over 250,000 people who have deposited a hundred dollars to be among the first potential Cybertruck owners.
What other car company has produced that type of excitement for a new vehicle?
Tesla has become one of the most valuable auto companies in the world, based not on what it has already accomplished, but on its potential to change the future of the auto industry.
In other words, Tesla is where it is today because it’s a company based on bold ideas.
And Cybertruck is its boldest one yet.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.