The Tesla Cybertruck is THE automotive design story currently — even though ten days have gone by since it debuted, there are polarised reactions to its design everywhere. Some are effusively positive, some are harshly critical, and quite a few go from initial criticism to a positive view of the design. But whilst design merit is subjective, there are five clear reasons why the Cybertruck design is a fundamentally poor design, and ultimately one big reason it should not be commended.
1. It is irresponsible
The world has gone from “climate change” to “climate crisis”. Pedestrian road deaths in the US rise year-on-year after decades of decline. Yet here is a new massive truck made even heavier because it is needlessly strong, which therefore means it uses more energy to move it around than it would otherwise need to. Here too is a truck with a body sharp edged and strong enough to kill like no other private vehicle. In both these respects the design is out of step with the times and irresponsible.
2. It is dystopian
Cybertruck has a super-strong stainless steel body and bullet proof glass despite purporting to be a normal production design (albeit in “prototype” form). It is the automotive equivalent of a suit of armour, but it is not clear why; Tesla haven’t said that it is designed for a war zone, or the paranoid (or outspoken billionaires living in countries with the right to bare arms…). Combined with its scale, brutalist aesthetic, and naked steel finish, it is truly a dystopian design — Tesla CEO Elon Musk even said that it was straight out of Blade Runner (the classic dystopian science-fiction film). But this isn’t a fictional vehicle for a movie, neither is it a student project, or an art-piece. Cybertruck is a serious proposition from one of the world’s most valuable and respected companies, and in this context it does not make sense to be dystopian / to be designed to suit a dystopia (an undesirable or frightening “bad place”).
3. It is not simple, it is simplistic
Apparently the simple and pure form language of the original Lotus Esprit was a point of inspiration, but the Cybertruck design, unlike the Esprit (or other similarly sheer surfaces seventies designs from Volkswagen Golf 1, Range Rover, and Maserati Khamsin production designs, to Lamborghini Bravo, Citroen Karim, and Lancia Sibilo concept cars) has totally flat surfaces and totally straight lines, not the subtly finessed near-flat and near-straight surfaces and lines, harmoniously integrated with graphics and details, that define these brilliantly sculptural cars. It’s almost as if Tesla had a knee-jerk response to the cry of #okboomer and normative pick-up design and decided they needed to make a really different truck design by taking the headline approach of car design from forty years ago when they were at their least classical, but did so in a hurry and without care, meaning that Cybertruck is simplistic like a crude toy, not simple like the finest Italian seventies car designs.
4. It has no legitimacy to its origins
Tesla cars have been consistently distinct and handsome designs. They use their electric powertrains to realise uniquely great proportions: they project an athleticism and quiet confidence that chimes with the brand, its customers, and its admirers. As BMW, Toyota and others step away from the ‘look-at-me’ approach of earlier electrified designs, this Tesla design strategy seems to make more sense than ever. But then along comes Cybertruck, with neither any design consistency with its siblings (the S, X, 3 and Y presumably now represent how Tesla thinks design should not be?), or any semantic that speaks of the Tesla brand — beyond being maverick. On top of it all, if there was one facet of Tesla design that needed moving on, it was in its level of ‘premium-ness’, but Cybertruck walks that back to ground-zero with its crude aesthetic.
5. It offers no valid future vision
Beyond its negative, dystopian design identity, how is a large truck design a good solution for now let alone for the future? Of all the brands ready to step from showing us the technical future of the car, to the design future of the car, Tesla was the one. Yet here is a massive truck — no hint of a new vehicle type, or any clever conceptual design thinking — with a massive electric powertrain wrapped up in weird stainless steel styling. The interior is also orthodox: nuclear family in two rows, generic twenty-teens EV design theme. Vehicle concepts from Renault and Volvo and Toyota and Lincoln and BMW, and many other brands, illustrate ideas that Tesla as a brand could uniquely realise and make stick in the market. The car world is still waiting for its iPhone moment and this could have been it. Instead we have something offering nothing better for tomorrow; Cybertruck offers no valid future vision.
It is good to have a new design challenge the hegemony of car design that on many levels is being slow to respond to new technologies and socio-cultural trends, and it is also refreshing to see something break-the-rules and shock us with such stark distinction — as if a jolt to remind us that variations on ‘normal’ is not the only way to go. But Cybertruck is no Citroen DS, Chevrolet Corvair, Range Rover, Audi TT, Nissan Pike-car, Chrysler PT Cruiser, or BMW i3; designs that over the decades were different as a consequence of trying to be better conceptually as well as aesthetically, and thus moved on the practice of car design.
As the world’s most evolved industrial craft that creates much of the value that the most sophisticated product on the planet brings to its customer, car design should not be irresponsible, dystopian, simplistic, lack legitimacy to its origins, or have no valid future vision — particularly not when it is from a brand we all look to, as we do with Tesla. That the Cybertruck design does these things and lives only for its shocking oddness denigrates design as frivolous and superficial. This is the big reason it should not be commended: to venerate the Cybertruck design is to reinforce the misplaced idea that car design is just about superficial styling — something that designers are forever having to educate others that it is not. And this is why we are writing this piece — because we care about car design enough to call out Cybertruck, in its current form, as an affront to the discipline. We hope the talented design team at Tesla might show us they too care next time around, and maybe persuade their CEO of a better direction.