Tesla gives us a cryptic look at its cyberpunk, Blade Runner-inspired pickup

Tesla truck teaser

Tesla has its work cut out for the coming years. It’s still trying to meet demand for the Model 3, it just introduced a crossover named Model Y, it’s bringing its first semi truck to the market, and it has started working on the next-generation Roadster. Phew. The firm likes keeping busy, so it’s also designing a pickup truck. Company co-founder and CEO Elon Musk previewed the model by publishing a dark teaser image on his Twitter account.

The cryptic image reveals a boxy design with a full-width light bar and a horizontal Tesla emblem. We’re assuming it shows the back end of the truck, likely with a tonneau cover over the cargo box, but Musk remained tight-lipped about the sketch. In the past, he has hinted at a “really futuristic-like cyberpunk, Blade Runner pickup truck” with seating for up to six passengers, and between 400 and 500 miles of driving range. Its jumbo dimensions will likely allow it to swallow Tesla’s biggest battery pack to date. It’s shaping up to be one of the most rugged electric cars on the market.

Tesla previously confirmed a set of early, basic specifications. Possibly called Model R, the truck will be roughly the same size as hot-selling pickups like the Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado. It will come standard with dual-motor all-wheel drive, a crazy amount of torque, and a self-leveling suspension. It will also be able to park itself and boast 360-degree cameras. Finally, it will have a 240-volt outlet to run power tools miles away from the power grid.

As for the rest, it sounds like nothing is off the table. When Musk asked for feedback in 2018, Twitter users collectively experienced a spurt of creativity. Some asked for individual torque control on each wheel, a system which would help off-road capacity. Others, likely speaking from experience, pointed out it needs physical buttons because touchscreens are difficult to use with work gloves on. One user even requested amphibious capability. Time will tell which of these suggestions will make it to the final design.

Musk has said in the past that he’s had the truck’s core design and engineering elements in his mind for almost five years and he’s dying to build it. He needs to kick the project into high gear, because the competition is heating up. Michigan-based startup Rivian turned every head during the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show with a rugged, battery-electric pickup called R1T, and Ford confirmed plans to release a battery-powered version of the hot-selling F-150. In December 2018, Musk wrote on Twitter that Tesla might show the model in prototype form in 2019.

The Model Y made its debut in March 2019, and the first examples are tentatively scheduled to reach showrooms in late 2020. That time frame suggests the production version of the truck won’t arrive until 2021 at the earliest. It will be interesting to see how the market reacts to it. Unwavering brand loyalty runs as strong among truck owners as it does among Tesla drivers, so getting a Silverado owner to walk away from Chevrolet could take an immense amount of persuasion. Rivian has shown the market for an electric pickup exists, however.

What’s next?

We could see a second truck from Tesla. The company briefly flashed a sketch (shown above) depicting a mammoth of an EV during the semi unveiling it held in November 2017. The photo shows a model that’s bigger than the Ford F-150 — much bigger. In fact, it’s hauling an F-150 in its cargo bed. Sketches are often misleading, but this model looks like it picks up where the immense International XT left off, a positioning that suggests it won’t compete in the same segment as the popular models built by Detroit’s big three. Tesla CEO Elon Musk described the concept as “a pickup truck that can carry a pickup truck.”

“We created a pickup truck version of the Tesla semi. It’s a pickup truck that can carry a pickup truck. By the way, you will actually be able to drive that with a normal driver’s license,” Musk said during the presentation. His comments suggest the concept isn’t merely a wild design study sketched to gather applause during the event. It’s real. It’s too early to say when we’ll see it, though.

Similarly, your guess is as good as ours when it comes to what’s under the sheet metal. The yet-unnamed truck bears more than a passing resemblance to the aforementioned semi truck, but there’s no confirmation the two share any components. International doesn’t make the XT anymore, so the production model will compete in a class of one when it hits the market.

Updated on March 18, 2019: Added more details about the truck and a new teaser image.

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