The frequency of Tesla Cybertruck prototype sightings has been rapidly increasing as we approach Elon Musk’s promised Nov. 30 event, where actual customers will allegedly take delivery of their long-awaited trucks. Over the weekend, Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen was seen driving around Southern California in a Cybertruck with a matte-black finish, something we haven’t seen before, and I got to take a lengthy up-close look at it when von Holzhausen brought the truck to a cars and coffee event in Malibu. Basking in the SoCal sun, this Cybertruck looked frankly horrible.


I’ve been around hundreds of prototype cars in my career, ranging from early test mules to near-production prototypes, and I’ve never seen an automaker proudly present something of this poor quality, especially not this late in development. It is absolutely baffling to me that Tesla’s lead designer would parade around a vehicle in this condition just weeks before deliveries of production cars are allegedly commencing and even more baffling that he’d park it at such a public enthusiast event. 


This doesn’t look like an early prototype, either. Its details and finishes match what we’ve seen from other “Release Candidate” Cybertrucks that Tesla has been showing off over the past few months, and not a single thing about it doesn’t look production-intent. Tesla’s Texas Gigafactory commenced pilot production of the Cybertruck earlier this year, and components like the lights, window glass, cameras, fender liners, and underbody trims of this prototype all look final. 

Gallery: Tesla Cybertruck Malibu Cars And Coffee

Late-stage prototypes can have essentially zero differences from the full production cars that consumers buy; sometimes they’re just the earliest ones to roll off the production line and fine-tune the process, getting driven by engineers and other employees to work out any kinks. Many of the cars that journalists are given to review are “pre-production” models, too. Will production Cybertrucks have better fit-and-finish than this one? Maybe later down the line. But with Tesla’s quality track record, I have a feeling most early Cybertrucks will look just like this.

What you see here isn’t paint, but a matte black vinyl wrap on top of the Cybertruck’s stainless steel body panels. Tesla recently announced a lineup of wraps available as a factory accessory for the Model 3 and Model Y, so there’s a chance that this could become an option for the Cybertruck, though Tesla hasn’t said anything as of yet. I overheard von Holzhausen say that he designed the car with a matte black finish in mind, so he just had the wrap applied. Hopefully this wrap job isn’t an indication of what quality would be for consumers, as it was shoddily applied with air bubbles and pieces of vinyl visibly lifting and peeling off.


While it fixes the stainless steel’s reflection and fingerprint issues, the matte black wrap makes build quality problems even more noticeable. Some of the gaps between panels were big enough to stick a finger through, with no visible seals or trim pieces even for the frunk. The lower sections of the front doors were particularly bad, with big gaps both in terms of width and depth. All four angular fender flares were misaligned and ill-fitting, but each one in different ways or amounts, honestly an impressive feat. The tailgate had maybe the worst fitment of all and was uneven to boot, which is even more noticeable when the taillights are illuminated. Keep in mind that Musk told employees that all Cybertruck parts needed to be built to “sub-10 micron accuracy” in an email that leaked earlier this year. I’m not a human tape measure, but this Cybertruck certainly didn’t seem to adhere to that standard.


Now Tesla panel gaps are nothing new—I’ve seen production Teslas with worse fitment than some of this Cybertruck’s panels—and they’re far from the worst of Cybertruck’s problems. The seam where the A-pillar meets the nose looks terrible, with visible overlap of the panels. Many of the edges look dangerously sharp, or at the very least would be painful to knock into. Plastic parts like the fender flares and bumpers don’t look very durable either, not great for a vehicle pitched partially as a work truck with off-road capability. And then there’s the ridiculous windshield wiper, which does cover a ton of surface area but sits vertically against the A-pillar without any sort of protective shroud or cowl.


Perhaps most concerning is how thick the upright A-pillar is from the inside. This prototype’s headliner seemed more well-sorted and a bit slimmer than other Cybertrucks I’ve seen images of, but it still has what is by far the worst forward blind spot I’ve ever seen in a new car. That triangular window ahead of the main pillar support definitely helps a bit, but it looks legitimately dangerous. The Cybertruck has a short nose and front overhang, but there is so much space ahead of the driver taken up by a long, flat cowl that it can’t be easy to see out of, especially when dealing with the super raked windshield and the reflections it creates.

Rear visibility looks awful too, both because of the bed’s thick, long fairings and the short side windows. It’s unclear whether the Cybertruck has a rear-view camera to be used when the tonneau cover is closed, as it cuts off the view out the tiny rear window. The only camera I noticed at the rear was at the top of the tailgate, and I couldn’t tell if the rear-view mirror was of the digital kind. The Cybertruck does have blind-spot cameras mounted in the front fenders, like what you get on other Teslas and cars like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Lucid Air.


I do think it’s pretty cool that the all-terrain tire option is a custom Goodyear with notches in the sidewall to accommodate the plastic aero covers, which look like the concept’s and have spokes that extend over sections of the tire itself, but if the cover is even a little bit misaligned it won’t look right. The first photos of the less-chunky all-season option recently surfaced, and while the tire design is more practical the design looks even goofier. 


One new-to-Tesla feature on the Cybertruck is the rear-axle steering system, which I saw at work as the Cybertruck pulled in and out of its parking spot. To my eyes, it seems like the rear wheels will turn at up to 5 degrees, or somewhere thereabouts. Rear-wheel steering is my absolutely favorite feature on new cars, so it’s awesome to see Tesla jump on that bandwagon, though it doesn’t seem like the Cybertruck will match the 10-degree angle of vehicles like the GMC Hummer EV and Mercedes-Benz EQS.


Regardless of build quality issues, I just plain don’t like the Cybertruck’s design. In fact, as the years have gone on and I’ve seen more of them in person, I like it even less. I appreciate the low-poly, Cyberpunk-style design inspiration, but to me it’s just far too simple and badly executed, not to mention concerning from a safety perspective for both pedestrians and other drivers. The Cybertruck certainly has a ton of visual impact in real life and looks like nothing else on the road, but the production model possibly shrunk in size and lost the dramatic proportions of the concept from 2019, and details like the rear diffuser are way more ungainly. 


Three weeks out from the delivery event we still don’t know any concrete specs or details about the Cybertruck. Final pricing hasn’t been announced either, but we know the original $40,000 base price is no more. The Cybertruck isn’t even prominently featured on Tesla’s website, and all of the imagery still shows the concept from 2019. In Tesla’s Q3 earnings report the company estimates annual Cybertruck production to be 125,000 units, with Musk saying production will be slow until 2025 but that number could increase to 250,000 per year at some point. Musk also warned the Cybertruck will be “enormously challenging” to produce and make profitable. Don’t even get me started on the claims of bulletproof body panels, which are even sillier when you realize the truck doesn’t have bulletproof glass.


Yes, this is still just a prototype at the end of the day. But at this stage of development, this close to customer deliveries starting, I couldn’t help but feel something akin to second-hand embarrassment when looking at it. If Tesla feels comfortable showing this Cybertruck off, I don’t think it bodes well for early customers.

Tesla has made fantastic, attractive cars in the past—I’m a big fan of the early Model S, and even defend the Model X’s design—but the Cybertruck is shaping up to be a nightmare. Luckily there are plenty of other automakers producing wonderful EVs that both look and feel like the future, a sentiment solidified in my mind after spotting a couple of Hummer EVs and dozens of Rivians in traffic later in the day. 

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