Paul Snyder has mixed feelings about Tesla’s Cybertruck, the first of which will be unveiled during an event for investors and fans on Thursday in Austin, Texas. One of them is horror.
When Tesla revealed the vehicle’s design in November 2019, his first reaction was a question. “Like, what is going on over there?” says Snyder, chair of the Transportation Design program at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. The triangular, flat, sharp-edged thing was, as he puts it, “a total departure from conventions and rules for car design as have been taught in the West for the last 100 years.” The Cybertruck also saw Tesla reject the sleek lines of its latest smash hit, the Model Y SUV, in favor of a design that looked to Snyder almost offensive, exuding martial aggression. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has made clear that was intentional. “We want to be the leader in apocalypse technology,” he said back in 2020.
And yet the Cybertruck also evokes awe in Snyder. “I have to respect the fact that it’s the coolest thing some people have ever seen,” he says. While mass production of the truck has yet to begin (and won’t until 2025, according to Musk), Snyder has begun to see its influence in his students’ designs and in the subtle angular shapes in competitors’ concept vehicles. It’s possible the Cybertruck has already changed the world of automotive design, he says.
Four years after its chaotic debut on a stage in Los Angeles—at one point, Tesla’s design head shattered the truck’s supposedly unbreakable armored glass, causing Musk to exclaim loudly, “Oh my fucking god”—car industry watchers say the Cybertruck’s unique design still repels, intrigues, and fascinates. At this point, the biggest surprise might be that the electric-car maker stuck with the thing and doesn’t appear to have significantly softened its design.
“Tesla has shown a concept and wanted to actually make the concept,” says Dale Harrow, chair and director of the Intelligent Mobility Design Center at the Royal College of Art London. In the automotive business, designers create concept cars to showcase new technology and experiment with new vehicle forms and materials. They often look weird—but that’s because they’re not real. Not with the Cybertruck. Tesla has “really stuck to their guns on this,” Harrow says. To see how the latest Cybertrucks look, come back to WIRED.com at 3 pm ET (12 pm PT) on Thursday for our live blog of the Tesla event.
One theme of the Cybertruck’s off-kilter aesthetic is simplicity—straight lines, bare surfaces, sharp corners. Taking that approach actually makes building the thing a lot more complex.
In photos Harrow has seen of the Cybertruck’s final design, its side panels are clean and flat—“a very hard technical thing to achieve,” he says. Straight lines are usually a no-go in automotive design, because surfaces that actually are flat can, depending on the angle and environment, actually look as if they’re sagging or concave. To compensate, Harrow observes, it appears Tesla has placed “crowns” on the final vehicle’s hood, front bumper, and even windshield, small and subtle curves against the vehicle’s dominant lines, to give the design “more surface tension” and prevent it from appearing concave. Perfection can only be achieved with a bit of imperfection.
The vehicle’s stainless steel exterior panels, which Tesla dubs an “exoskeleton” because it provides crash resistance from the outside, likely created production obstacles not present in vehicles made of more conventional materials finished with a coat of paint. Stainless steel resists corrosion and allows Tesla to avoid the pricey, complicated, and environmentally damaging process of painting. (The company’s Fremont, California, factory was fined last year by the US Environmental Protection Agency for air pollution violations related to its paint shop.)