This story first appeared in Streetsblog USA.
After years of delays, multiple price hikes, and exactly one infamous steel ball mishap, Tesla finally handed over the keys to the very first Cybertruck on Thursday.
For a car that barely exists yet — the $60,000 base model won’t be available until 2025, and the company only has a “goal” of producing 250,000 of the $80,000 and $99,000 versions before that — Streetsblog readers probably already know a fair amount about Elon Musk’s long-awaited apocalypse-bunker-on-wheels. Since its 2019 unveiling, social media has been saturated in images of the vehicle, which has been variously compared to a roided-out Blade Runner jalopy and an industrial refrigerator, and tech journalists have been questioning whether it will turn out to be a “bad joke or a big mistake.”
Still, as it achieves its final Pokemon evolution, it’s worth pausing to consider just how thoroughly the Cybertruck has come to represent some of the worst problems of American transportation culture, even as it purports to address many of them. Or, as Engadget’s Nathan Ingraham eloquently put it: “Musk has basically built a vehicle that, for a steep price, enables the worst impulses of US drivers and gives them the ‘freedom’ to do whatever they want.”
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Cybertruck, though, isn’t the toddler-vaporizing “frunk,” or the obnoxious ads of the car driving through unspoiled streams. It might not even be its astonishingly inefficient use of precious battery materials, or the way that battery distorts drivers’ perception of how beneficial to society their cars really are. (Please do not get me started on the thing’s “BioWeapons Defense Mode,” an in-cabin HEPA filter that’s more likely to shield occupants from, say, tire particles from multi-ton EVs, rather than supervillains gassing city streets.)
Perhaps what’s most upsetting about the Cybertruck is what the vehicle suggests about how billionaires like Musk imagine the future of our world — and how willing many Americans are buy into that violent dystopia.
Or, as Paris Marx put it in his book “Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong About the Future of Transportation”:
For the times when they are beyond the walls of their gated communities and need to drive (or be driven) outside of their exclusive tunnel systems, the Cybertruck will provide protection from the unruly mob that is the general public. With inequality in the United States having risen to higher levels than any time since the Great Depression and the accelerating effects of climate change creating the potential for hundreds of millions of climate refugees, the wealthy are making additional preparations for the moment when the public finally turns against them—hence the walls, tunnels, and armored vehicles.
In 2020, Elon Musk announced that he aimed to turn Tesla into “a leader in apocalypse technology.” Perhaps a better ambition would be to take a hard look at who’s cheerleading the apocalypse in the first place.