The Cybertruck’s best trick could be driving sales of this other Tesla model instead

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People don’t have to actually buy the Cybertruck to make it a hit for Tesla. They just need to come and look at it.

While Elon Musk’s futuristic electric pickup truck looks nothing like a Chevrolet Corvette or a Dodge Viper, Sean Tucker, senior editor at Kelley Blue Book, sees a resemblance between Tesla’s
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boxy Cybertruck and the two curvaceous sports cars.

He says they’re all “halo cars,” aka an auto-industry phrase for a captivating or curious vehicle that draws in gawkers. And once these curious consumers are in the door, they often end up buying something else on the showroom floor that’s more affordable or better suited to their needs.

The Corvette and the Viper are two examples of such alluring automobiles, Tucker said. And he puts the new Cybertruck in that category, too.

“What this thing really does is drive you in the showroom to buy a [Tesla] Model Y,” he said.

‘What this thing really does is drive you in the showroom to buy a Model Y.’


— Sean Tucker, senior editor Kelley Blue Book

While the Cybertruck has a starting price of around $61,000, the rear-wheel drive Model Y has a $43,990 base price. Plus, the Model Y qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

The Model Y is “more affordable, it’s actually available” and it already has broader appeal to car buyers than the Cybertruck may have for many truck buyers, Tucker said.

But there’s no denying that the Cybertruck is revving up plenty of interest. Before Tesla’s livestreamed deliveries in Austin, Texas on Thursday, for example, Tucker stood in a line that ran out the door of a Tesla store in Washington D.C. He said that he and the others were there just to get an up-close look at the Cybertruck.

“The moment you see it, it’s otherworldly,” he said. “It looks more like something you drive on Mars than what you drive on Earth, and I think that’s the point.”

And Tucker noted that he saw some people continuing to browse around the Tesla store after they checked out the Cybertruck. “I suspect a few of them will be back,” he said.

Related: The Tesla Cybertruck is finally here; prices start around $61,000

Sam Fiorani, vice president, global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions, agreed that the Cybertruck’s real value may be getting drivers into a completely different Tesla model.

“Every brand has a ‘halo,’ and it’s always something distinctive,” said Fiorani. “The Cybertruck definitely fits that model with its distinctive looks and over-the-top features. As a halo, it has the potential of working very well for Tesla.”

So even if Tesla’s new toy is impractical or out-of-reach for many people in the market for a new EV or truck, these automobile-industry analysts say it’s likely that some Cybertruck oglers will shift gears to shop for a Tesla Model Y or the Model 3, instead, “based on their prices and the mainstream appeal of those vehicles,” Fiorani said. The Tesla Model 3 now starts at $38,990.

The Consumer Reports test drivers are among the more than 1 million people on the Cybertruck reservations list waiting for their turn at the wheel. But the vehicle is already Tesla’s “aspirational halo vehicle,” agreed Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, regardless of whatever rating it gets.

“Despite how it tests, it’s still going to serve its purpose” for Tesla, because of the chatter and attention that it’s generating, he said.

So how does the Cybertruck match up?

New cars are incredibly expensive these days. The share of people with car payments that were at least $1,000 climbed to a record high in the third quarter, according to Edmunds. In October, people paid an average $47,936 on a new car, which was 1.4% lower year over year, according to Kelley Blue Book.

So customers want to know what they are getting for their hard-earned cash, and how that stacks up.

The Cybertruck has more than 1 million reservations, but researchers say it’s probably not going to be pulling in conventional pickup truck buyers. It’s “a niche product,” according to Cox Automotive analysts.

Tucker agrees, but notes the Cybertruck is in pretty much the same price lane as EV pickup trucks like the Ford
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F-150 Lightning and the Rivian
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R1T. “The price is amazingly comparable to others,” he said, later adding “in that sense, I think the price is fair.”

Citi
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analysts made the same point in a Thursday note.

“There are always a variety of considerations that arise when comparing vehicles, but our initial observation is that core Cybertruck specs (price/range/performance) appear far more in-line with EV Pickup peers.”

Here’s their tale of the tape.

A Rivian spokesperson declined to comment. A Ford spokesperson responded that its Lightning pickup was “designed and engineered to meet the needs and expectations of our customers,” adding that November 2023 was “a record month with almost 4,400 F-150 Lightnings sold — over 100% increase from last year.” They added that half of those were new customers.

But there’s another point, Citi researchers said, which gets back to the potential indirect “halo” boost for other Tesla offerings, like the Model Y. While the Cybertruck might be comparable with fellow EV pickups, they said that there’s “more favorable” comparisons that the Model 3 and Model Y have on competing comparable EVs.

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