The Journal Gazette
Saturday, November 23, 2019 1:00 am

Tesla truck unveiling shattered

Musk-proclaimed unbreakable glass cracks twice at show


The much-hyped unveiling of Tesla's electric pickup truck went off script Thursday night when supposedly unbreakable window glass splintered twice when hit with a large metal ball.

The failed stunt, which ranks high on the list of embarrassing auto industry rollouts, came just after CEO Elon Musk bragged about the strength of Tesla Armor Glass on the wedge-shaped Cybertruck.

On a Los Angeles-area stage with Musk, Tesla design chief Franz von Holzhausen hurled a softball-sized metal ball at the driver's side window to demonstrate the strength of the glass, which Musk called “transparent metal glass.” It shattered.

“Oh my ... God,” Musk said, uttering an expletive. “Maybe that was a little too hard.”

They tried it a second time on the left passenger window, which spider-cracked again.

Musk recovered with a one-liner: “At least it didn't go through. That's a plus side.”

The failure overshadowed the truck's slick unveiling, with some analysts panning its looks. The truck, a stainless-steel covered triangle, resembles the much derided Pontiac Aztek SUV sold by General Motors in the early 2000s.

Investors apparently didn't like the stunts or the truck's futuristic design, which is aimed at getting a foothold in the most profitable part of the U.S. auto market. Tesla shares fell almost 6% in midday trading Friday.

“Tesla's Cybertruck reveal will likely disappoint current pickup truck owners, and we see the vehicle remaining a niche and not a mainstream product,” Cowen Investment Research analyst Jeffrey Osborne wrote in a note to investors. “While we are pleased to see Tesla enter the most profitable segment of the North American passenger car market, we do not see this vehicle in its current form being a success.”

Over the years, there have been some embarrassing mishaps. At Detroit's auto show this year, an Infiniti concept electric SUV missed its introduction when it wouldn't start and the company couldn't move it onto the stage.

Perhaps the most famous miscue came in Detroit in 2008 when Chrysler showed off the new Ram pickup with a cattle drive outside the convention center. But some of the cattle started mating, drawing attention away from the vehicle.

“You can rehearse it 100 times, and the 101st is the time you do it before the public and it fails,” said Bud Liebler, who was head of marketing and communications at Chrysler from 1980 through 2001.

He was in charge when Chrysler became famous for stunts, including driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee up the entry steps and through the front windows of Detroit's convention center in the 1990s.

Liebler said he considers the Tesla event a fiasco, but said Musk did the only thing he could when the glass broke.

With the Cybertruck, Tesla was aiming for Detroit's profit machine, the full-sized pickup.

The truck came onstage with lasers and flames, and a demonstration of its stainless steel skin developed by Musk's SpaceX rocket company went well. Von Holzhausen swung a sledge hammer at the driver's side door, and it bounced away harmlessly without any damage.

Musk said the Cybertruck will start at $39,900, but a tri-motor, long-range version will have a base price of $69,900. It will have a battery range of 250 to over 500 miles and be able to tow up to 14,000 pounds.

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