Yes, Tesla released a new model this week. A long-anticipated, light-duty truck slotting itself securely in between the current prices for small and full-sized pickups. Yes, it’s also called Cybertruck. In traditional Tesla fashion, it does a great deal more within its physical constraints for roughly the same cost, and within nearly the same dimensions as a typical F-150 or Ram 1500. But its design implications effectively gaslight the consumer public and set a dangerous precedent for what is labeled “revolutionary” in modern automotive design.
So let’s get this out of the way early: it’s incredibly cool. And if you know me well enough, you know it fits neatly into my personal film taste aesthetic.
I like it.
Please keep that in mind. I find it fun and visually stimulating and magnetic.
The lighting design is incredible, the interior and bed are well-appointed and Swedish-ly hyper efficient, yet welcoming. That’s an impressive feat. The design is extremely “bold,” (the word everyone is using) but only in relative to current automotive design.
That’s where things start to fall apart
Nothing about the super utilitarian, angular SUV is representative of a future that the world is actually headed towards; only one that Musk fetishizes.
Musk is vocal about his love of Blade Runner, Back to the Future, and other 80s sci-fi media. It shows through obviously (and more subtly) in the design of the Cybertruck, and that is a bad thing. Let’s take a few examples, starting with the first comparison everyone has been making, to Blade Runner. This one is obvious; let’s think about the DeLorean.
The DeLorean predates Blade Runner by a year, and brings a lot of those same design elements into the real world. That was a real car you could buy, and now for some reason, they’ve all rotted into oblivion. It was a terrible car.
Yes, the DeLorean was iconic to automotive design in the 80s, but lots of its design elements came from modern airplane design, 20 years prior. It’s also worth noting that while the DeLorean did inspire a few models thereafter (the Nissan Pulsar comes to mind), its sharp angles did very little for the next 20 years, which continued to trend smoother and rounder (the RX-7 and Supra both being poster-children for the 1990s).
So one year later, here was Blade Runner, replete with similar design for cop cars in 2019 Los Angeles.
Here, the influence is painfully obvious. The stark angles, flat, unpainted body panels, and low rake in the windshield, all culminating in a flat-pyramid sort of vibe.
Similar vehicles could be seen in Total Recall, Back to the Future II, and other generational sci-fi, all of which dealt with a distant future between 30-130 years away, based on extrapolating existing technological developments. And that’s the problem.
Musk designed the Cybertruck to usher in a ‘future’ that doesn’t exist.
These imaginary universes were imagined, in part, during The Cold War, when a post-nuclear or otherwise ‘necessarily utilitarian’ future was an existential possibility. America had also just spent the first 10 years living in the reality of the Clean Air Act, which automakers made no effort to engineer alongside; instead ushering in the Malaise Era and the maligned cars that came with it. Just because this one new design looks like Americans expected for the future in 2020, 30 years ago, doesn’t mean it’s something that should be built.
Those designs represent a drab, dystopian, authoritarian growth from 1980-whatever until now. They are representative of a police state, of conglomerates like Tyrell Corporation and Weyland Industries consolidating power and production and giving the general population basic necessity while the rich get richer.
The fact that Cybertruck can be had only in a single color, unpainted, further plants Musk’s flagpole in this ideal.
So no, it’s not “revolutionary,” or “retro,” it’s regressive. Musk is the super-elite, and is working to advance his own self interest with the Cybertruck as a tongue-in-cheek, brazen middle finger to the consumer.
And while America is still trending towards conglomerate consolidation, automotive design has gone the opposite direction in the past 37 years since the release of Blade Runner. We’ve aggressively and linearly trended towards excess in automotive design. More body paneling, more vents, more spoilers and LED lights and molding; and more car.
While modern automotive design may be admittedly bloated in both the physical size of an average car and in the excess of choice of model from manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes, freedom of choice for the American consumer is definitely preferable.
There’s a reason that cars today don’t look like this; we’ve progressed positively as a society. “Revolutionary” automotive design would celebrate that progress in inventive ways, not harken to a dystopian future that will never, ever exist.