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Musk: Tesla Truck Will Crush The Competition

Jon LeSage

Elon Musk is making outrageous claims once again — this time about Tesla pickups that he says will be far better and more powerful than anything on the market.

Musk is also taking on heavy-duty truck giants with the upcoming Tesla Semi, that's going to roll out next year. Add to all of its fully autonomous vehicle features, which Musk recently told stakeholders will come out by the end of this year.

Tonight he'll be unveiling the “Cybertruck,” an electric pickup truck, as press days end at the LA Auto Show. Musk said he is more excited about the Cybertruck than any other vehicle in Tesla's future lineup.

This is a segment where the competition will be quite steep — not just from startup Rivian, who just sold 100,000 of its electric pickups to Amazon, but also from plans in the works by Ford and General Motors to roll out electric pickup trucks. These two Detroit makers have dominated pickup sales for decades. 

Musk has been talking a lot about it over the past year. One key claim is that the Cybertruck’s starting price will be under $50,000. That's lower than Rivian's $69,000 starting price for its R1T. Ford has yet to reveal such details as the window sticker price for an electric version of its US top-selling F-Series pickups.

Tesla’s CEO is excited by a few features on the electric pickup, and the profit potential. It has the potential to boost Tesla’s vulnerable profit margins. Along with low gasoline and diesel prices making trucks and SUVs very popular with American buyers, Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (and its Ram pickup series) manufacture and sell more trucks and cars because the profit margin is much higher.

Added features help quite a bit here. Musk has claimed that the Cybertruck will have "crazy" torque, two motors, all-wheel drive, and a suspension able to adjust to the load the vehicle is hauling. You’ll be able to power tools through the truck’s power outlets that can go up to 240V in high power tools.

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It will have a range of at least 400 miles. Musk said last year that the pickup truck would have a range of at least 400 to 500 miles. Another potentially outrageous claim is that it will be able to tow up to 300,000 pounds. In comparison, a 2020 Ford F-150 can only tow up to 13,200 pounds.

Analysts will be watching for another of Musk’s bragging statements — that it "looks like an armored personnel carrier from the future.” It may sound cool to Musk, but will pickup shoppers buy into it?

Deutsche Bank analyst Emmanuel Rosner wrote in a Monday note that there was a risk that the futuristic design "could carry the risk of not attracting traditional pickup buyers, leaving it a lower-volume niche product." 

Musk is also taking on heavy-duty truck giants with the upcoming Tesla Semi, that's going to roll out in “limited volumes” next year, the company said last month.

Musk had promised they’d start production this year during the 2017 unveiling, but the company backtracked and clear it up during the earnings call. One of Musk’s outrageous claims was that the Tesla Semi will be close to 600 miles on a charge, which they’ve discovered from the production version.

Recently, a Tesla Semi prototype was spotted at a California Highway Patrol Inspection Center. The CHP reported that the electric truck prototype was “meeting or exceeding the range estimates.”

That was most likely a reference to the production versions that will have 300-mile and 500-mile range versions for $150,000 and $180,000, respectively.

The company is regaining support for its market value, with stock price recovering and climbing lately into the $350 per share range. Tesla reached a market low for the year at about $179 per share in June.

Tesla delivered a strong third-quarter earnings report on Oct. 23, posting a surprise profit and telling shareholders it is ahead of schedule with a new factory in Shanghai. Shares spiked more than 20 percent that day, putting them at their highest price since February. The company has been staying course since then, indicating shareholders are happy overall with improving performance.

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The company needed to recover after another one of Musk’s antics in September 2018. Stock plunge 9 percent right after a podcast in which Musk smoked marijuana and sipped whiskey. On the podcast, he smoked a joint containing what comedian and host Joe Rogan described as a mix of marijuana and tobacco.

Another blow was that two high-profile executives abruptly announced they were leaving the company — human resources head Gabrielle Toledano and Chief Accounting Officer Dave Morton. They’re among several Tesla executives who’ve left abruptly from what’s described as an intense and demanding work environment.

Musk has also pledged that the Cybertruck will have 360-degree cameras, sonar, and the ability to parallel park on its own. Autonomous driving features continue to be a key driver for Musk and his engineering team.

It made for yet another dramatic claim during the quarterly earnings call last month. Musk promised that Tesla’s fully autonomous vehicle features that are being built into all of its new vehicles are "in early access release of a feature-complete full self-driving feature this year.”

He wants his company to be the very first bringing the technology to market — as it continues to undergo federal safety investigation over its Autopilot semi-autonomous feature. 

“While it's going to be tight,” Musk said during the conference call, “It still does appear that we will be . . . in early access release of a feature-complete Full Self-Driving feature this year.”

The company has yet to define these available features, but it would give the trophy to Tesla of being the very first maker to launch sale of autonomous vehicles. Tesla has said it would also allow nearly $500 million in revenue from pre-orders of the self-driving features, held off the books for years, to be recognized in quarterly earnings statements.

This would certainly help boost Tesla’s near-term financial outlook. But that comes with a great deal of risk; one of these risks will be to find out if the federal government will allow these autonomous features to be used yet by drivers.

Tesla still has to resolve warnings sent out by fatal crashes that have been attributed to its Autopilot semi-autonomous feature. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in September cited both driver error and Tesla’s Autopilot design as the probable causes of a January 2018 crash, in which a Model S slammed into a parked fire truck at about 31 mph. The driver was distracted and did not see the fire truck, according to the federal agency. NTSB says that Tesla’s Autopilot was also at fault, as its design “permitted the driver to disengage from the driving task.”

The safety board is investigating several crashes involving Tesla’s Autopilot system, including a fatal crash in March 2018 in California. Things didn’t go well, with Musk abruptly ending a phone meeting with NTSB officials.

The agency revoked Tesla’s role in the investigation after clashing with Tesla’s abrasive CEO on the phone meeting. It makes for another part of Musk’s personality along with making lofty claims about his proclaimed best-in-class futuristic vehicles, and production schedules that usually run late.

By Jon LeSage for Oilprice.com

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