Musk says it’s really tough, not fake tough

Elon Musk unveiled the 2021 Tesla Cybertruck today in a presentation that kicked off with how he’s sick and tired of pickup trucks looking the same for over a century. But he didn’t complain without a purpose; the 2021 Cybertruck is actually radically different than mainstream trucks like the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado. Tesla found an alternative to the popular body-on-frame layout, but also built the truck from a cold-rolled stainless-steel alloy, a premiere for the truck industry. Both explain the really strange shape of the body, which we will discuss below.

Built really tough, not fake tough

The title to this section is what Elon Musk said during the presentation. The words came out of his mouth after his assistant used a sledge hammer to hit a conventional truck door, likely from a Ford F-150, and the Cybertruck. While the traditional door deformed and got serious dents, the Cybertruck’s door flinched and remained clean. This is obviously aimed at Ford’s already iconic marketing campaign "Built Ford Tough." But Elon has a point.

The Cybertruck is obviously tougher than the regular truck. And while Ford switched to aluminum to keep things light and flexible, Tesla adopted a new construction and a new alloy. Big trucks still feature the ancient body-on-frame architecture, which means that the drivetrain basically drags the body and the bed, which isn’t very efficient. So Tesla designed an exoskeleton, a fancier word for unibody layout, to move the stress from the frame to the outer skin of the vehicle.

By doing so, it obtained better capability in the same dimensions and weight as the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and Ram 1500. In case you missed it, the Cybertruck has a towing capability of 14,000 pounds, more than any other truck in this segment, while payload is also superior at 3,500 pounds. At the same time, it’s quicker and faster.

But it’s not just the unibody construction. The outer shell is made from cold-rolled stainless-steel alloy. This material was developed in-house for Tesla’s space program and provides additional stiffness while keeping curb weight low.

Cold-Rolled Stainless-Steel Tech Explained

This isn’t a new technology, but no other company used it for a production vehicle up until now. Cold rolling, a technique used by various construction companies, increases the strength of the steel, while improving tolerances and surface finish. The latter becomes useful when the structure is exposed in an exterior design, like in the case of the Cybertruck. Yes, this technique also explains the weird, polygonal shape of the truck.

While Tesla probably wanted a shocking look for the pickup, the design also has a functional shape in terms of torsional rigidity.

Production of cold-roll steel is also different from conventional steel. Instead of heating it up to high temperatures to make it more malleable, steel is rolled at room temperature. This results in the ability to produce thin flat sheets of stainless steel. The rollers also reduce the grain size of the metal, making it stronger and giving it a smooth surface.

Other advantages of cold rolling include no shrinking or creepage at room temperatures, uniform quality, lightness, and the fact that it can be modeled into high precision parts. This technology is usually a bit more expensive, so it will be interesting to find out how Tesla managed to keep the base price of the Cybertruck so low.

A revolution for the truck market?

It’s difficult to say whether the Cybertruck will revolutionize the truck market. Automakers will eventually ditch the body-on-frame architecture, but it remains to be seen if cold-rolled stainless-steel becomes a viable option for components. Ford already switched to aluminum and Chevrolet is adopting the same alloy for its trucks. But there is one thing that the Cybertruck will change in the truck segment: body-on-frame structures will disappear earlier than expected.

Ciprian Florea
Senior Editor and Supercar Expert - ciprian@topspeed.com
Ciprian's passion for everything with four wheels (and more) started back when he was just a little boy, and the Lamborghini Countach was still the coolest car poster you could hang on your wall. Ciprian's career as a journalist began long before earning a Bachelor's degree, but it was only after graduating that his love for cars became a profession.  Read More
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