One of Tesla’s core accomplishments has been to change the public’s idea of what — and who — electric cars are for. From the showy, uncompromising, original Roadster to the sleek, luxe Model S, to the almost-mainstream Model 3, the company’s most successful models have dramatically expanded its addressable market, reaching swaths of buyers that previous electric cars that were targeted solely at tree-huggers didn’t.
While Tesla’s stated mission is environmental, its marketing has always been more about trendsetting, innovation, and desirability. Its cars have succeeded, not primarily because they are practical or good for the world, but because they felt like the future. Tesla is not the first to take that approach: Toyota’s Prius initially touted its environmental credentials and practicality, but its sales took off only after the company gave it bolder styling and began marketing it as a high-tech status signifier.
Thursday night, Tesla made its boldest statement yet when it launched a striking addition to its lineup, a pickup truck that it calls the Cybertruck. Everything about it screams “tough,” from the stainless steel “exoskeleton” to its angular shape to the “armor glass” windows. Its radical design was instantly polarizing: Many hated and mocked its looks, while others drooled.
Starting at $40,000, the Cybertruck will compete at the high end of the truck market with incumbents such as Ford’s popular (and lucrative) F-Series and Chevy’s Silverado. In theory, it could be the next Tesla to electrify a whole new demographic, one for which previous electric vehicles have held little to no appeal: the 20% of U.S. vehicle owners who drive pickups. But for the first time, Tesla may have missed the mark with its marketing, building a vehicle that is so self-consciously futuristic that it overshoots the target audience entirely.
The North American large truck market is one in which, broadly speaking, environmental concerns take a backseat to virtues such as capacity, power, and ruggedness. So it makes sense that Tesla went for broke on the Cybertruck’s design and durability — quite literally, as it turned out, when lead designer Franz von Holzhausen threw a metal…