Why the Tesla Cybertruck Looks So Weird

If Raphael Zammit is being perfectly honest, his first reaction when someone texted him a photo of Tesla’s new Cybertruck was horror. “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness! What did Tesla do?’” he says. “What did they do?”Zammit isn’t just a neutral observer. He heads the MFA Transportation Design program at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and has been involved in automotive design for a quarter century. And to him, the Cybertruck is “extreme.”
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“It literally breaks every rule we tell to our students,” Zammit says. “It’s what we tell them not to do.” No, this is not a truck built for truck designers.

For example: See the top of the vehicle up there, and how thin it is? See the truck’s fine, narrow D-pillar, the slanted back stand that supports the roof? Based on all the triangles involved, there’s no reason to believe that the top of the truck is weak. But the thinness makes it appear to be. Zammit says he and other automotive designers teach students to add a little extra something to make the vehicle look stable, to look strong—even if it doesn’t add much to the engineering.

Yep, this is a vehicle design without compromises. That might be why the initial reaction to the truck, seemingly built to haul carcasses in a postapocalyptic videogame, was a collective “wut.” Those design choices also diverge dramatically from the other products in Tesla’s decade-long existence. Even its Semi, unveiled two years ago and meant to start rolling off production lines next year, is made of elegant, swooping lines.

The interior of the Cybertruck Tesla unveiled Thursday. Photograph: Tesla
With the Cybertruck (or CYBRTRCK, as Musk styles it), all that refinement goes out the slightly spider-webbed window. “Other car companies keep their form language very consistent for 100 years,” says Lee Walton, a vehicle designer who teaches at Finland’s Lahti University of Applied Sciences. “To completely change the form language at this point in [Tesla’s] history is very, very unusual.”
Here’s another reason the Cybertruck may seem strange: It doesn’t look like it has all of the necessary elements to make it road-ready. The model shown onstage on Thursday night didn’t have side mirrors, which are required in the US (though the federal government is considering changing the rule). Its headlights, a strip of illumination, wouldn’t be street legal. Automotive engineering experts say they’re also worried about the lack of a visible “crumple zone,” built to collapse and absorb the brunt of the force in a forward collision. Tesla did not respond to questions about whether the truck’s design would change before it goes into production in 2021.