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Tesla’s Cybertruck didn’t always look so cyberpunk

Tesla’s Cybertruck didn’t always look so cyberpunk


A newly released image shared by Musk biographer Walter Isaacson shows an array of early concept designs for the Cybertruck, alongside a moodboard of inspirations.

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Musk, von Holzhausen, and a third man stand in front of several boards of images.
The photo shared by Isaacson showing concept images of the Cybertruck, and the pop culture that inspired them. Click to see full-sized image.
Image: Walter Isaacson

Elon Musk biographer Walter Isaacson has shared a photograph of the Tesla CEO during an early meeting about the Cybertruck that sheds interesting light on the alternative designs considered, as well as the pop culture that ultimately inspired it. On the left of the image we can see several concept images of Tesla’s electric pickup truck, while on the right is a mood board showing images from various movies and video games, including many sci-fi and cyberpunk titles. In the foreground Musk can be seen in conversation with Tesla design chief Franz von Holzhausen.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an alternative design for Tesla’s eye-catching pickup truck. During the company’s launch event for the Tesla Semi in 2017, Musk teased the announcement of the forthcoming vehicle with an early concept image featuring a much more Semi-style front-end. But the new photograph released by Isaacson shows a range of different designs, many with less-angular bodies that what recently rolled off the assembly line.

A board filled with Tesla pickup truck concepts.
Other Cybertruck concept art showed more traditional pickup truck designs.
Image: Walter Isaacson
A mood board showing images from movies and video games.
Images from Robocop, Cyberpunk 2077, and James Bond can be seen on one board.
Image: Walter Isaacson
A mood board showing more pop culture inspiration.
More inspiration, including Tron.
Image: Walter Isaacson
A third mood board with more pop culture inspiration.
An image from Blade Runner 2049 can be seen in the top left.
Image: Walter Isaacson

On the right we can see the kind of media that inspired the Cybertruck’s design. There’s a shot from Blade Runner 2049, which is perhaps unsurprising given Musk once described the then-unannounced Cybertruck as Tesla’s “Blade Runner pickup truck.” There are also early concept images from the video game Cyberpunk 2077, which was subsequently shown running on the Model S Plaid’s infotainment system

Other shots identified by Business Insider include James Bond’s Lotus Esprit 1 Series submarine car from The Spy Who Loved Me, the DMC Delorean, and images from RoboCop and Tron. Isaacson also notes that Halo also made an appearance on the display boards.

Although Isaacson doesn’t explicitly date the image, he shared it alongside a 2017 anecdote from his forthcoming biography on Musk, in which the Tesla CEO made the decision to construct the Cybertruck out of stainless steel. “Instead of using stamping machines that would sculpt carbon fiber into body panels with subtle curves and shapes, stainless steel would favor straight planes and sharp angles,” Isaacson writes. “That allowed— and in some ways forced— the design team to explore ideas that were more futuristic, edgier, even jarring.”

According to Isaacson, Musk personally pushed for a less conventional design, even if that meant potentially putting off some customers. He reports that Musk had been talked out of taking a similarly radical design for the Model Y (which has subsequently gone on to become a bestseller) but wouldn’t back down when it came to Tesla’s first pickup truck. “I want the future to look like the future,” Musk reportedly said. “We’re not doing a traditional boring truck. We can always do that later. I want to build something that’s cool. Like, don’t resist me.”

Tesla’s Cybertruck would eventually be announced in 2019 with production planned for late 2021. After several delays, Tesla’s Texas plant announced production of its first Cybertruck earlier this month ahead of a delivery event planned for later in the year, and mass production in 2024. Isaacson’s biography of Musk is scheduled for release in September 2023.