The controversy around the Cybertruck doesn’t end at the styling. Assuming Tesla follows through with the pricing Elon Musk announced in November, the Cybertruck will be one of Tesla’s cheapest vehicles yet.
Currently, the cheapest vehicle that Tesla offers is the Model 3, which is priced at $37,990. Meanwhile, Musk announced that the single motor Cybertruck would start at $39,900. That’s just $2,000 more than the Model 3, and a whopping $10,000 cheaper than the Model Y, which is currently priced at $49,990.
Sure, the Cybertruck will have less range than the Model Y, but it still has a fairly reasonable 250 miles, which is more than the industry average. However, the Cybertruck has many extra features that are absent on the Model 3 such as:
- Bulletproof body
- Adaptive air suspension
- Digital rear view mirror
- Towing capacity of 3400 kg
- 6 seats
- 17 inch touchscreen
It seems like for the amount of truck you are getting, the Cybertruck should be much more expensive than its current expected price. Let’s explore how the Cybertruck will be one of Tesla’s cheapest car’s yet, costing just $39,900.
TLDR; Tesla will reduce the manufacturing cost of the Cybertruck by streamlining the production process. This is mainly down to the angular exoskeleton body, which can be manufactured using a press brake, which is much simpler than a stamping die. Furthermore, the Cybertruck won’t be painted, which is a costly part of Tesla’s manufacturing process.
The Cybertruck’s Unusual Structure
The Design of The Cybertruck
Clearly, the Cybertruck is one of the most unconventional automobile designs of this year, or maybe even all time. What makes it so unconventional is the planar design. Musk says that this is because it’s not currently possible to stamp the 30X stainless steel that the Cybertruck is using.
To be clear, 30X cold rolled stainless steel is not stainless steel that has been cold rolled 30 times. Instead, it refers to a certain mixture of steel called the 300 series. Some members in this series include 301, 302, 304 etc… Tesla and SpaceX have formulated their own special type of this steel, which is part of the 300 series, and they have named it 30X, where X is an unknown variable.
This material was originally developed by SpaceX for use in the stainless steel Starship made for transporting cargo and humans to Mars. Since the Cybertruck was released, SpaceX has slightly altered this alloy, meaning the alloy the Cybertruck is made from will be altered to match this.
According to Sandy Munro, who tears down vehicles and sells their schematics to manufacturers, Tesla will most likely use press brakes to press the body panels into shape. Musk says the prototype was bent into shape, which required a deep score on the inside of the bend.
“This operation here is going to be very very simple, maybe just using press brakes as appose to using great big giant stamping dies to crank out fenders or doors”Sandy Munro, Munro & Associates.
A press brake should be capable of performing all of the necessary bends to make the exoskeleton, another slightly controversial aspect of the Cybertruck. Despite this, there are several advantages of such a design choice, especially for an electric vehicle.
“Cybertruck is built with an exterior shell made for ultimate durability and passenger protection. Starting with a nearly impenetrable exoskeleton, every component is designed for superior strength and endurance, from Ultra-Hard 30X Cold-Rolled stainless-steel structural skin to Tesla armor glass.”Tesla
An exoskeleton, which is also known as a monocoque or unibody, is a external frameless structure that supports the components of the vehicle.
In advance of the 1940s, almost all vehicles were designed based on a frame, which hosted all of the main components of the vehicle, and a body placed on top of it, which provided doors, windows, and a roof.
Bolted to the frame were things like the powertrain, drivertrain, and shafts, providing a strong foundation to place the body on top of. Think of it like a remote control car. All of the components are attached to a frame, then different ‘shells’ or bodies can be placed on top to protect and cover all of the components on the frame.
During the 1940s, some vehicles started using an exoskeleton based design. Proceeding the 1940s, most saloons and small cars were using the new design technique. At the time, SUVs and other large vehicles preferred the body-on-frame system due to its better handling of payload.
Eventually, many SUVs switched to the exoskeleton based system, leaving just pickup trucks and large transport vehicles like vans. Recently, some pickup trucks are emerging that use exoskeletons, such as the Honda Ridgeline, but exoskeletons are virtually non existent in the pickup truck market, and many ‘truckers’ don’t even consider exoskeleton based trucks real trucks.
In an interview with Jalopnik, Mike Sweers, who is the chief engineer of the Toyota Tacoma highlighted some reasons for this.
Regarding towing, Sweers stated the following:
“By disconnecting the body structure from the rolling chassis, strength for towing is increased via increasing chassis strength in areas that display higher input forces.”Mike Sweers, Chief Engineer of The Toyota Tacoma
Although this statement is true, it’s not really valid. Despite a body-on-frame truck being stronger for towing, unibody trucks, especially small to mid-size, are more than strong enough to tow the loads that anyone would find themselves towing. Furthermore, many truck owners don’t even use their car for towing anyway.
According to Tesla, the maximum towing capacity of the tri-motor Cybertruck is at least 6 tonnes, which is far higher than what the vast majority of people would be towing. Clearly, strength isn’t an issue for the exoskeleton. Perhaps with a weaker exoskeleton, rather than thick stainless steel, there would be strength issues, but Tesla really seems to have gone above and beyond in terms of towing.
In general, one of the main benefits of a unibody design is that it can be lighter than its body-on-frame counterpart, whilst offering a higher stiffness. However, pickup trucks are heavy duty vehicles, and have to be built to withstand heavy stresses.
Consequently, manufacturers often end up strengthening certain parts of the exoskeleton to handle these stresses, which adds weight. Despite starting with a lighter pickup truck, manufacturers usually end up with a truck that’s just as heavy as the body-on-frame models.
However, there’s benefits of having a greater mass. For example, a heavier car is generally considered better for towing, and the frictional force between the tires and the ground is increased, leading to more traction.
It’s fairly obvious that Tesla wasn’t particularly bothered about being ‘too heavy’ when designing the Cybertruck. Tesla has told California regulators that the Cybertruck will “likely” be classified as a class-2B or class-3 heavy duty truck.
If that’s the case, it would mean the Cybertruck’s minimum weight is 8,500 lbs (3.9 tonnes), and its maximum weight is 14,000 lbs (6.3 tonnes). Yeah, doesn’t look like the weight was a consideration in the design!
Here, the body on frame does have some tangible benefits, but only in certain cases, which only occur in a small percentage of the population.
Much like a bike frame or aircraft wing, a steel car frame can flex slightly, giving it compliance to handle the high stresses of off-road driving. This flexibility helps prevent fracturing.
This all sounds good, but it’s time to throw a spanner in the works. Seemingly, this is only beneficial when doing hardcore off-roading in a large truck. Sure, Cybertruck ticks the ‘large’ box, but what about the ‘hardcore off-roading box.
Firstly, a large portion of truck owners, particularly in the US, don’t actually use their pickup trucks for off-roading.
Sometimes people drive them for status, sometimes for their size, and sometimes for carrying things, but often not for off-roading, never mind hardcore off-roading.
Tesla does seem to be pitching the Cybertruck as something that performs well off-road, which suggests they are confident in the performance of SpaceX’s new alloy, but only time will tell.
How Will the Cybertruck Be One of the Cheapest Tesla’s Yet?
Almost all consumer vehicles on the road are extremely detailed. The main body is littered with curves, edges, and angles. Let’s take the Chrysler Ram 1500 2020:
Many of the body panels in the Ram are constructed from high-strength steel and manufactured using stamping dies. These can pump out large body panels consistently and efficiently. However, they can only stamp thin body panels. When Tesla wanted to make a stainless steel pickup truck with 30kg, 3mm thick stainless steel door panels, Elon said that the stamping die would break when trying to produce the door.
Furthermore, stamping is expensive, and requires many complex robots to pull off. On the 3rd Row Tesla Podcast, Musk made it clear that an efficient production line must contain as few robots as possible.
By using press brakes, Tesla will be able to simplify the production line, using fewer and less complex robots. As a consequence, the manufacturing cost will be driven down, leading to a reduction in cost to the consumer.
Typically, trucks are painted for two reasons; appearance and corrosion resistance. Cybertruck is made from stainless steel, which is highly corrosion resistant. Furthermore, once its polished, it looks appealing unlike many other materials.
Tesla has had numerous issues with painting in the past, especially during the Model 3 production ramp, in which owners reported areas of some panels which were left completely unpainted.
Paint shops are one of the most expensive components of a car factory. Hence, without the paint shop, not only will Tesla have more space to produce other parts, but it will make the production process considerably cheaper. Once again, this will most likely contribute to the low cost of the Cybertruck.
There’s no point in a truck being cheap to buy if its extremely expensive to maintain. Fortunately, it seems Tesla have pulled this one out of the bag too.
Musk suggested on the Third Row Tesla podcast that any scratches in the car could simply be buffed out by the owner, costing nothing. Further to this, since there is no paint, the truck wouldn’t need repainting either.
However, some have suggested that stainless steel vehicles are very difficult to repair if they are dented. This is because the panels are very hard to pop back out, especially with 3mm thick stainless steel. Saying that, unless the Cybertruck is involved in a big crash, I can’t see it getting dented anytime soon. At the unveil, Franz was able to hit it with a sledgehammer without causing any damage.
Traditionally, the other problem with painted body panels is chips due to gravel or grit on the road. In colder climates where the roads are gritted daily, this can cause lots of damage to body panels and glass.
Looks like Tesla has solved this one too. Their almost shatterproof glass should make the windscreen resistant to breaking when hit by light (or even some heavy) objects.
Tesla Model S
Tesla Model 3
Original Tesla Roadster (2008)
Original Tesla Roadster with Aero Kit (2014)
Second Generation Roadster (est)
If the Cybertruck ends up having a drag coefficient of 0.3, it would be in line with the upgraded Tesla Roadster with Aero Kit. For reference, the Ford F150 has a drag coefficient of 0.56, whilst a Dodge Ram has a coefficient of 0.59.
As you can tell, a drag coefficient of 0.3 would be a big deal, especially for an EV where efficiency is of fundamental importance to range.
Finally, due to the car being electric, customers would benefit from both incentives and fuel savings on top of the low price tag.
Will the Price Really Be Less Than $40,000?
If you had interviewed people before the Cybertruck unveiling last November, you’d be lucky to find many people who genuinely believed that the price would be less than $40,000. I don’t think even Musk was expecting this price.
With Tesla’s current pricing strategy, a sub $40,000 price tag could spark some problems with the rest of the lineup. Not only would it most likely cannibalise many Model Y sales, but it would most likely reduce the Model 3 sales too.
Hence, by the time Cybertruck rolls around to production, Model 3 and Y will most likely be considerably cheaper than they are now. It wouldn’t be particularly surprising to see both Model 3 and Y below the $40,000 mark.
So far, Tesla hasn’t failed to deliver on an announced price, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t. Just like the Model 3, Cybertruck may have a cheap model which is difficult to find on Tesla’s website in the hope that they don’t sell many of them. As with all their cars, the more expensive variants will have considerably higher profit margins, so there will most likely be a push to sell as many dual and tri motor variants as possible.