Tesla Cybertruck

Cybertruck: Because ugly sells

Tesla’s Cybertruck has finally hit the road. The angular EV pick-up truck will find a market, but the pitch is only tangentially about driving, says Jason Walsh
Image: Tesla

1 December 2023

A day late and a dollar short? How about years late and $30,000 more expensive? Tesla, this week, re-unveiled its Cybertruck… thing, though at a price far higher than anticipated, with deliveries starting on 30 November, finally coming good on a promise made when the vehicle was first shown off in 2019.

Clearly, I am not a fan. However, I will say that at least the design, if not actually attractive, is not boring. Provocation is no bad thing in design, and many of the cars we now consider classics, or even something close to kinetic works of art, were considered outrageous when new.

Of course my opinion, I am sorry to say, is worthless. As a car lover I have, reluctantly, been forced to face one important fact: these days, the cars that car lovers love are not the cars that people buy. You might say that t’was ever thus, and it is certainly true that most cars have always been, frankly, fairly objectionable to look at. But not all of them.




Beautiful cars come in all shapes and sizes. Everyone knows the original Mini is a design classic, but fewer today remember the Renault 5 as revolutionary. And yet it was as much a fashion statement as a car, and, crucially, also a practical hatchback – and cheap. At the other end of the spectrum, cars from the Jaguar E-Type to the original Porsche 911 brought a certain elan to the world. Even family cars, such as the Fiat 124 and Citroën DS brought a lot of style to the party – and in the case of the DS, revolutionary technology that has just barely become ubiquitous almost seven decades later.

Today, the ‘car’ market is dominated by lumpy, truck-like things that resemble a cross between a van and a running shoe. So popular is the so-called sports utility vehicle (SUV) that, in the US, Ford now only makes one actual car, which is to say a vehicle is not some or other kind of truck – and that is the Mustang.

When ‘car’ becomes a category error

More broadly, the semiotics of the automobile are changing as the car’s role as a universal symbol of freedom fades into the rear-view mirror.

In that regard, the Cybetruck is probably going to be a winner: it may be grotesquely ugly, a pick-up truck that looks like it was designed using a Sinclair Spectrum, but the market decided long ago that ugliness was no impediment to vehicle sales.

That’s probably for the best as Tesla boss Elon Musk seems intent on routing one of his company’s core customer bases. Before Musk bought Twitter, Teslas were bought as what economists call ‘positional goods’. In other words, status symbols, but while a Ferrari said you were rich (and a Lamborughini said you were a YouTube scammer who can sign a lease contract), driving a Tesla was a way of telegraphing that you were a forward-looking person: concerned about the environment (or at least concerned about being thought of a someone who is concerned about the environment) and also interested in the latest technology. So forward-looking, in fact, that things like panel gaps were of no interest to you. 

Musk’s increasingly aggressive public persona is certainly a challenge to that. Doubtlessly, Tesla will find another market, though. After all, if being disagreeable was an impediment to manufacturing cars, Enzo Ferrari would have had to find something else to do for a living.

Perhaps the Cybetruck is precisely the right vehicle for Tesla right now, with Musk intent on positioning himself as the plain-speaking bad boy of business, more akin to a rock star than a classic corporate capitalist. With its sharp-angled aesthetic that could charitably be described as folded paper and an image that marries a self-consciously macho aesthetic to techbro gadget love, the Cybertruck could well carve out an angry niche in the market. Some people bought Hummers, after all.

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