Cybertruck's Best Feature

I try not to post about current events, because they're fleeting and everyone seems to forget the lessons of the past while considering the present.  So the more I post about current events, the less accurate I'm probably going to be.  Prior to the unveiling of the new Tesla truck I predicted that it would result in a large number of negative articles, regardless of the actual quality of the truck.  I'm going to call that prediction, at best, unmeasureable.  It was predicated on the assumption that a large number of negative articles wouldn't be justified, and I think regardless of whether you like the design you have to admit it is a radical departure from expected norms.  Hence the negative posts about it are within the realm of normal expectations, so even if people were prone to buying negative advertisements journalism about it there would be no need at this point to waste the money buying something that's bound to come out anyway.

Personally I don't like the look.  I think it could grow on me, but it has a long way to go yet.  In a milder way it reminds me of other car designs that departed from the norm only to introduce new design concepts that became mainstream, like the original Ford Focus.  While newer designs of the Focusare much improved, at the time it came out I wouldn't have even considered buying a Focus.  Other examples of iconically bad design include the original Scion xB, the PT Cruiser, and the Nissan Cube.

That said, I think there's a certain segment of people who will buy and love their Tesla Cybertrucks (as there were with the Scion, etc. above).  Indeed, there are a lot of great features on it that you can't get in any other truck.  At least, not right now.  This brings me to the impetus for this post.  Whether you like it or hate it, the Cybertruck is good news to anyone who likes or wants to own trucks.  It'll be two years (or more) before this thing comes onto the market.  That gives other car manufacturers two years of notice to not only design a competitor, but also to ensure their competitor has comparable features.  This is the part that's good news for truck lovers.

For example, the new Tesla truck is promising a built-in air compressor, and plugs for standard 120V, as well as 220V power delivery.  I know plenty of people in the trades, and those three features alone could be enough to tip the scales on the Cybertruck.  They may even hate the design, but when it comes to doing the job versus looking good, for a certain crowd doing the job will win out every time.  These people will buy the Cybertruck.

Unless there's a viable alternative.  This is where the good news for truck lovers comes in.  Trucks are famously a huge revenue stream for vehicle manufacturers.  This was part of why people were excited to see Tesla enter the truck market.  Because of the high competition, trucks have lots of features to choose among.  To the point that finding the right truck with the right combination of features can be difficult.

(It also seems that with the increase in electric vehicles on the road a Cybertruck with a 220V outlet could be at the center of a roadside car charging service for people who run out of charge before getting to a charging station.  Whereas now the options are much more limited.  I know other trucks have 120V outlets, but I don't know of any with 220V outlets, though I could easily be wrong about this.)

Competition-driven Inventiveness

I'd like to make an analogy here to another highly-competitive industry: cell phones.  For a surprising segment of the population, which brand of cell phone you prefer matters personally to them.  I have a personal preference that differs from other members of my family, because there are certain nuanced aspects of the system I prefer that aren't matched by the competitor's system; but mostly because I've developed muscle memory to one system over the other (yes, I've worked with both for extended periods).  However, I'm always excited to see new and interesting features implemented in the competitor's platform.  This may seem odd to people who get defensive about their choice of cell phone operating system, so allow me to justify why you, too, should be happy to see the competitor do something cool that your phone can't possibly do.

A few years ago, Apple introduced fingerprint scanners into their phones.  Later they introduced advanced face unlocking that can't be faked with a simple picture.  These were great features ... that Android users waited a year (maybe two?) to get.  Without Apple's innovations, it's unclear whether or when Android would have gotten the same functionality.  Meanwhile, Android was standardizing wireless charging, quick settings in the notification shade, and a host of other features that eventually made their way to iOS.  Android had a feature where you could voice search, or generate voice texts.  Apple then came out with a digital assistant that wouldn't just hear you, but also speak the answer aloud to you.  Google followed suit, adding other features, etc.  In other words, if you wait a year or two, the other system will make your system better.  A lot better!

Musk Wins Either Way

Ford has already shown off their electric truck prototype, hauling over a million pounds.  They're also trying to compete with the upcoming Tesla Model Y using their Mustang brand to create an electric crossover SUV.  Whenever someone tries to needle Elon Musk about this kind of competition, saying something like, "This is going to kill your business, Elon - you're going down!" Musk's response is always, "Great, I hope you're wildly successful."  I didn't used to understand this kind of camaraderie ethos until a read a recent biography of Musk.

Let's illustrate Musk's attitude with a hypothetical.  Say GM was about to transform all their production to electric vehicles, with battery technology that was cheaper and higher capacity than anything Tesla could manage.  They have all the patents, and will dominate electric vehicles once this is implemented.  (Not really, of course, this is a hypothetical.)  There's just one catch: they need one of Tesla's senior engineers to manage the operation.  If they don't get him, they'll scrap the whole plan as too risky.  This senior engineer is loyal, though.  He goes to Musk, "Hey man, here's what GM is planning.  There's no way you'll be able to compete with it, so this move will mean the end of Tesla.  I personally owe you for all you've done, so I'll give you the final decision about whether I leave and go over to GM.  What do you say?"

An evil genius billionaire would try to stop the whole thing.  My sense from reading about Musk is that he would not only encourage the project, but he'd ask, "Is there anything I can do to help make sure this succeeds?"  That's because Musk would rather see an exponential growth in the electric vehicle market than to personally be the one to make slower growth happen.  He cares more about the cause than he does in leading it.

This explains why, before the launch of the Cybertruck, he said that he didn't really care if people hated it.  He knows two things will result from his November announcement:
  1. Some people will buy into the new design.  They'd buy the truck and love it even if Musk had tried to make it uglier.
  2. Every other truck manufacturer is going to see this new truck as an unknown element between now and its release.  They'll want to hedge their bets by making sure they have a strong alternative to the Tesla option.  Other truck manufacturers are going to accelerate development of their own electric trucks.
That's great news for Musk, whether or not it's a slam dunk for Tesla.  A few weeks ago, Tesla reduced the cost to reserve a new vehicle from $2,500 down to $100.  With that move, a lot more people will be putting down reservations for the Cybertruck.  At least, among those who actually want one (and yes, there are people who like it).  That will give Tesla - and Musk - advance information about how well this launch will actually go so they can plan accordingly.  The rest of the market won't find out until the sales numbers come in.

[Note: originally drafted the week after the announcement but delayed until now due to Nanowrimo.]

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