By now, everyone on this site has seen and has formulated an opinion on the Tesla Cybertruck. Now that I’ve had some to get over the shock and awe, I’ve put together a few thoughts on what the Cybertruck might actually mean for the pickup truck segment going forward. Is the Cybertruck the leading edge of a radical new direction in truck styling, or will it be a one-off, a historical oddity? Let’s take a look.
Every so often, a vehicle comes along that sets a whole new styling direction for the industry for years to come. History (and this site) are full of examples, but here are two that everyone should be familiar with.
In 1961, Lincoln introduced their new Continental. While maybe not as daring then as the Cybertruck is now, it was every bit as much of a repudiation of the existing styling zeitgeist. Instantly, the wild and crazy shapes, fins, and tri-tone paint jobs of the 1950s looked dated, replaced by a clean pressed and folded look. It is little wonder that 1960s icons like the Kennedys became associated with this car.
By the mid-1960s, the slab-sided look was everywhere: Bulbous curves and fins were out, sharp creases were in. Chrysler even went so far as to poach Elwood Engel, the designer of the Continental, from Ford to sprinkle his Continental magic on Chrysler’s Imperial line.
The square look started by the ‘61 Connie would be a surprisingly durable look (at least among US automakers), lasting a full 25 years until Ford launched the next styling revolution with the Taurus, in 1986.
Granted, the 1986 Taurus may not have been as revolutionary as the 1961 Continental (European cars like the Audi 5000 and even Ford’s own Thunderbird were signaling the aero look for several years prior to 1986), but the Taurus was a mainstream family car, and the impact on the market was about the same. The squared-off K-Cars and Luminas of the era immediately looked like the box the Taurus shipped in. Automakers caught off-guard by the Taurus scrambled to match the Taurus’ aero look, with mixed results (I’m looking at you, Chevrolet Caprice).
Which brings us to the current state of affairs. To say that Pickup truck styling is in a rut is a bit of an understatement: The last major styling innovation was the 1994 Dodge Ram, launched a full quarter of a century ago. The 94 Dodge introduced us to the square-jawed, big grille with Texas belt buckle badge look that continues to this day. Name one other vehicle segment that has seen no significant styling changes in the past quarter-century.
As a result of this stagnation, manufacturers have had nowhere to go but to outdo each other with successively bigger grilles and uglier and angrier faces, until the look has become a parody of itself, much like the 1959 Cadillac had become by 1961.
Because of the gradual nature of this process (over years and decades of model changes), most people don’t even realize this is happening until someone bravely steps up with a bold new styling direction and points out that the emperor indeed has no clothes. Enter the Cybertruck.
Look, I get it. Truck manufacturers (and their buyers) are a conservative bunch. From the manufacturer’s standpoint, we are talking about what are easily the most profitable vehicles in their portfolio. Whether we choose to admit or not, a lot of buyers’ manhood (and they are mostly men) is tied up in the Marlboro Man image that is projected in their rock climbing and horse trailer towing advertisements (despite the fact that precious few buyers are actual ranch hands).
The Cybertruck says (no, screams) “Enough of that. Time for something new.”
As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, Pickups are still clinging to a design language created in the previous century. What exactly is a 21st century pickup truck supposed to be, and what should it look like? Tesla offers a strong clue.
I would argue that the paramilitary “stealth fighter” look of the Cybertruck successfully kicks aside the old urban cowboy look while not compromising the inherent manliness and toughness that attracts buyers to pickups in the first place.
It opens the door to entirely new styling directions just as much as the Continental did in 1961, and the Taurus did in 1986. But will anyone else step through that door? Exactly how long are the Cybertruck’s coattails?
It is impossible to say for sure, but if pre-orders and early attempts by hobbyists to create their own Cybertruck clones are any indication, I suspect that the next-generation F-150, Ram, and Silverado will crib more than a few lines from the Cybertruck.