It’s official. The Cybertrucks coming out of Tesla’s Texas factory are bad. Bad, bad, bad with a capital Musk, as shown by the judgment of the X-kingpin himself. After taking a production candidate of this polygonal horror for a spin, Musk wrote an internal email to Tesla employees, revealing his concerns in categorical terms: “Due to the nature of Cybertruck, which is made of bright metal with mostly straight edges, any dimensional variation shows up like a sore thumb.” However, the real problem here is that these aesthetic troubles are rooted deep in the very nature of its design, which may make them extremely hard—if not impossible—to fix unless there is a complete redesign, as we foretold back in January.
Musk’s observation refers to the problems in the body of the Cybertruck, which include misaligned doors and uneven surfaces that make the car look wobbly, weird, and very unlike the clean angled renders Tesla has presented over the years. It’s a mess that underscores the inherent challenges of the Cybertruck’s unique design. As Adrian Clarke—a professional car designer who now writes design critiques for the automobile publication The Autopian—told me back then: “The Cybertruck is a low polygon joke that only exists in the fever dreams of Tesla fans that stands high on the smell of Elon Musk’s flatulences.”
The problem, according to Musk, is the bright metal construction and predominantly straight edges mean that even minor inconsistencies become glaringly obvious. To avoid this, he commanded unparalleled precision in the manufacturing process, stating in his email that “all parts for this vehicle, whether internal or from suppliers, need to be designed and built to sub 10 micron accuracy. That means all part dimensions need to be to the third decimal place in millimeters and tolerances need [to] be specified in single digit microns.” Drawing a comparison to everyday products known for their precision, Musk added, “If LEGO and soda cans, which are very low cost, can do this, so can we.”
Professor X believes that Tesla can attain such precision, but Clarke questioned the demand in an email he sent me today. “Is totally infeasible for production. Body panel tolerances are measured in whole mm to allow for variance in assembly and the tolerance stack!” This is also nonsense because, as he points out, it doesn’t take into account the thermal expansion and contraction of vehicles that come into play during the manufacturing and operation of the vehicle. Or, as one of the Cybertruck Owner Club’s forum participants, quipped in response to Musk’s email: “If all of the CTs parts were either soda cans or legos this would be an easy command to obey.”
CHRONICLE OF A FORETOLD MESS
The Cybertruck, with its unprecedented angular design and bold promises, has been a topic of fervent debate since its first reveal. While its appearance might be polarizing, the real concerns lie beneath its reflective exterior, with a myriad of design and quality issues that plague a car that hasn’t even reached consumers yet.
Musk promised this pickup in 2021 and didn’t deliver. Then he said production was coming in 2022, but that year came, and it got delayed again to early 2023. Now it’s been delayed again till “late 2023.” Tesla blamed the supply chain, but Clarke and others in the industry are skeptical it will ever happen—at least, not without a serious redesign. “As soon as we saw [the Cybertruck], everyone I know in the industry started laughing. We just thought there is no way they’re gonna be able to get that into production.” There’s no way, he assures me, because it’s not going to pass crash regulations, it’s not going pass pedestrian impact regulations, and, more importantly, it’s going to be extremely hard to make those “those dead straight panels.”
Clarke explained that car panels are made by stamping them with big metal hydraulic presses: “They always have an amount of curves in them because they have to be able to hold the shape when the part comes out of the press.” But if you have a dead flat panel, it doesn’t work. “It’s going to vibrate and they’re going to have massive problems stamping those panels and having them keep their shape.” This observation aligns with Musk’s own admission about the dimensional variations being prominently visible due to the truck’s straight edges. Another example of a problem caused by this bad design was the Cybertruck’s doors don’t seem to align properly with the body, which is a fundamental issue that speaks to the vehicle’s overall build quality.
It’s yet to be seen if the changes in the frame and fake exoskeleton were caused by other potential manufacturing problems predicted by Clarke, like the reverberation of sound. “[All those dead flat panels are] going to vibrate and they’re going to have massive problems stamping those panels and having them keep their shape,” he told me at the time. “This will force Tesla to use “some kind of foam or sound deadening.”
The precision problems made obvious by its angular design that Musk has detected also demonstrate another prediction that will affect drivers down the line: It’s going to be a nightmare to repair any small dent. Any imperfection in its stainless steel body can’t be painted. It will be there forever unless you replace the entire panel or do some really crazy fine repair job.
A BIGGER PROBLEM
The Cybertruck’s flaws are not isolated incidents but rather emblematic of a broader, concerning trend that has been emerging over the years. Tesla, once the shining beacon of electric vehicle innovation, is under an increasingly critical spotlight due to persistent quality issues. “Twenty years from now, you really think that they’re going to dominate the auto market? Not a chance,” said Columbia University Professor Emeritus Bruce Greenwald (“a guru to Wall Street’s gurus”) in 2021. Michael Burry—the “Big Short” investor who famously predicted the 2008 crash—paints an even worse picture judging by his continuous bet against Tesla.
The sad truth is that the company’s vehicles have been riddled with a range of problems, which have resulted in continuous poor performance ratings in JD Power’s Quality Surveys, class-action lawsuits and countless videos on the internet pointing at the terrible built quality of Tesla cars. The Tesla Motor Club forums are rife with discussions and complaints about these issues, which include misaligned body panels—which are not just cosmetic concerns but can also lead to increased wind noise and even potential water leaks—body paint issues, and plenty hardware malfunctions that range from door handles to issues with the retractable windows and poor quality dashboard screens.
And of course, all the software glitches that have plagued the cars, including a growing scandal about its false autonomous claims and a federal criminal probe because of its erratic and dangerous performance.
So it’s not a surprise to learn that the Cybertruck has quality issues that stem from its bad design. They are just par for the course—an indication of deeper-rooted problems within Tesla. If the company does not address these quality control challenges head-on, it risks being overshadowed by competitors who are catching up fast, both in terms of technology and quality.
As for Cybertruck itself, let’s not forget about Clarke’s other bold prediction: There are going to be so many problems with the manufacturing of this vehicle’s atrocious design that only a few will be produced or it will end looking very differently. Which is not a bad thing because perhaps we don’t need yet another heavy truck on the road. Especially one that, in the precise, micron-level accurate words of Frank Stephenson—one of the most influential automotive designers of our time—is cold, sterile, and almost repulsive.