Elon Musk stands in front of the shattered windows of the newly unveiled Cybertruck in Hawthorne, California. AFP
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 more than 6% 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, such stunts have been common at highly rehearsed auto industry unveils. In a tweet Friday, Musk indicated Tesla had rehearsed its stunt as well, saying the same ball was thrown at the same window of the truck before the event and it "didn’t even scratch the glass.”
But like Tesla, others have seen some embarrassing mishaps. At Detroit’s auto show earlier 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 truck 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 auto-show 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. He joked about it and continued on with the show. "It’s got to be an embarrassment,” Liebler said.
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 between 250 miles (400 kilometers) and more than 500 miles and will be able to tow up to 14,000 pounds (6,350 kilograms). Tesla says the truck can go from zero to 60 mph (97 kph) in 2.9 seconds.
The electric pickup truck will be in production in 2021, Musk said.
Musk also said, “Franz throws steel ball at Cybertruck window right before launch. Guess we have some improvements to make before production haha.”
Tesla has started delivering Model 3 electric cars built at its Shanghai factory in just under a year since it began work on the $2 billion plant, a record for global automakers in China, and said it would ramp up deliveries from next month.
Tesla Cars will soon be talking to pedestrians, asking them to hop in or leave the way on congested roads, CEO Elon Musk has hinted.
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