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Tesla Truck Demo Gets Awkward as Shatterproof Windows Shatter

Dana Hull and Ed Ludlow

(Bloomberg) -- Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk took to the stage late Thursday to reprise a familiar role: pitching a future vehicle to a throng of adoring fans. This time, it was the “Cybertruck” -- his name for Tesla’s new electric pickup.

The angular vehicle, which has a stainless-steel skin, starts at $39,900 and will come in three variants, Musk told a packed audience in Hawthorne, California. Customers can order the truck with a deposit of just $100, though production will start no sooner than late 2021, Tesla said on its website.

After a “Blade Runner”-inspired introduction, Musk had Tesla’s long-time chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen, smash the truck’s steel exterior with a sledgehammer, showing that it did not dent.

But it was the second demonstration, of Tesla “armor glass,” that was the real show stopper: von Holzhausen unintentionally shattered two of the truck’s windows with a metallic ball, causing Musk to say “Oh my f---ing god.” Given how product launches are usually scripted and rehearsed, the broken windows were the evening’s big surprise.

Tesla shares fell 6.1% to $333.04 on Friday, the sharpest decline in almost two months.

The evening began with a slideshow of standard pickup trucks throughout the years, and Musk’s vow to make something different that runs on sustainable energy.

“You want a truck that’s really tough, not fake tough,” Musk said, in what seemed to be a veiled swipe at Ford Motor Co.’s slogan. “A truck you can take a sledgehammer to that doesn’t dent.”

Some industry veterans said Tesla will likely have to tone down the design specifications to make it commercially viable. “It’s science fiction. If it ever comes to pass, it will look different and have different specs,” Bob Lutz, a former senior executive who worked at all three Detroit automakers before retiring, said in an email. “A bold new design direction, but in my view not appealing or commercial.”

Not for Contractors

Tesla fans in the audience liked what they saw.

“It’s like something out of a movie set,” said Elizabeth Lepek of Marina del Rey, California, a current Tesla Model X owner who placed a $100 deposit for the Cybertruck. “It’s so futuristic. I like the design of it. There’s nothing quite like it on the road.”

But traditional truck buyers are a tougher audience and less likely to be impressed by Silicon Valley sizzle.

“It misses the core truck buyer,” said Gene Munster, a managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures. “A contractor is not going to show up to a work site in this truck. That said, Tesla will still sell some of them.”

More: You Think the Tesla Cybertruck Looks Stupid? OK, Boomer

The hashtag #cybertruck quickly began trending on Twitter as potential customers started sharing their views about the futuristic design -- and the window snafu.

And though it will take a long time before the Cybertruck hits the streets, that’s something Tesla customers are used to. Musk unveiled a Semi truck two years ago, but that vehicle has yet to enter volume production.

Musk tweeted Friday the truck also will offer an optional two-person all-terrain vehicle, signaling Tesla’s plan to enter the off-road vehicle market.

The lucrative full-size pickup market in the U.S. is dominated by the Detroit Three: Ford’s F-Series, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Ram and General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Silverado. Japanese automakers have spent two decades and billions of dollars to get in on the gravy train, but U.S. brands still control almost 92% of the half-ton segment, according to IHS Markit.

More: Tesla’s Mocked Cybertruck May Be Brilliant, Car Designer Says

“The design will be questioned, but over time the specs will help win over pickup loyalists,” said analyst Ben Kallo of Robert W. Baird. “The volumes are expected to be low, and the Model 3 and Model Y continue to be the focus.”

(Updates with industry executive comment from eighth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Thuy Ong, Natnicha Chuwiruch, Derek Wallbank and David Welch.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dana Hull in San Francisco at dhull12@bloomberg.net;Ed Ludlow in San Francisco at eludlow2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chester Dawson at cdawson54@bloomberg.net, Ville Heiskanen

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