Tesla just canceled plans to sell the oft-delayed Cybertruck in Australia, and notified thousands of customers who’ve placed advance reservations to apply for a refund. At least that’s been the jist of reports coming out “Down Under” during the last day or so.
Now, however, the fate of the truck is far less clear. There’s no question the automaker stopped taking advance orders in Australia for the all-electric truck. And while it appears customers can ask to cancel reservations and get their $100 deposits back, they’ve been able to do that all along.
The original report, published by Drive.com.au, indicated the Cybertruck had been removed from Tesla’s Australian website. That’s inaccurate. The page is still available. That said, potential customers no longer can place an order. Instead, the order link is gone and, in its stead, is a button that allows users to “Get updates.”
The automaker has not offered a public explanation for the change but it is adding to concerns about the potential future for the project, which reportedly brought in about 1.2 million reservations worldwide at $100 apiece. The Cybertruck program has been repeatedly delayed since CEO Elon Musk unveiled the pickup during a closely watched event in November 2019.
“Cybertruck would be a big deal for the company if it (finally) comes out,” said Sam Fiorani, senior analyst with AutoForecast Solutions, “and such a big deal if it were not to come out.”
Ditching “Down Under”
According to website CarBuzz, 76% of Cybertruck reservations have been placed in the U.S., another 10% in Canada. But Australia — one of the rare overseas markets for large pickups — was third in line, accounting for more than 3% of those reservations.
Fiorani said if Tesla does wind up scrapping plans to ship the truck “Down Under” it would likely be because the automaker’s engineering department is already overwhelmed with other projects, including the Tesla Semi, as well as the need to ramp up production at the automaker’s two new plants in Berlin and Austin, Texas.
Tesla “is prioritizing development of left-hand-drive,” he explained, and might not want to have the headache of developing the right-hand-drive needed for Australia — and other former British colonies, plus Japan. “It would require a lot of engineering work for a small number of vehicles.”
According to Fiorani and other analysts, the real test will be watching to see if Tesla actually does pull the plug on Australia — or any other market, especially ones using more common left-hand drive.
A “flop” in the making?
Concerns about the fate of the Cybertruck have been mounting for some time, despite the large number of advance reservations Tesla has received. The automaker has repeatedly delayed production, earlier this year saying it couldn’t start before 2023. And some analysts believe even that plan may be too optimistic.
It doesn’t help that CEO Musk has raised questions about the viability of the Cybertruck program on a number of occasions. Most notably, in July 2021 he took to Twitter to say there was “always some chance” the truck could be a “flop.”
Cybertruck has been one of the most controversial products in recent automotive history, indeed, perhaps since World War II. There’s the unusual design, for one thing, along with the decision to build the pickup out of stainless steel. And Tesla has found the project more difficult to pull together than expected.
In May of this year it brought a prototype to an event in Michigan, Tesla officials acknowledging they had yet to solve a key problem: a design for the wipers needed to clear the truck’s massive windshield.
“There are all kinds of potential issues with that truck,” said Fiorani.
So far, Tesla has not even identified which of its four assembly plants would produce the Cybertruck, though several vendors have told TheDetroitBureau.com the automaker has begun laying out plans for sourcing Cybertruck components.
Expanding list of competitors
While Tesla likely wants to resolve all those “potential issues” with Cybertruck before locking down production plans, it could face other problems by waiting too long.
Three all-electric pickups — the Rivian R1T, the GMC Hummer EV, and the Ford F-150 Lightning — are already on the market, and they will be followed by plenty of others, including a second Ford model, the Chevrolet Silverado EV and GMC Sierra EV, the Ram 1500 EV and additional entries from the likes of Toyota, Kia and others.
But the market for all-electric pickups has surprised many in the industry. Ford originally geared up its Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Michigan to handle 25,000 Lightning models annually. Ford now is boosting that to 150,000 a year.
There could be a relatively benign explanation for what’s happening Down Under. Tesla has been struggling to get its two newest plants up to speed, even as it has faced production disruptions at its Shanghai factory due to a new COVID outbreak. That has left it struggling to meet incoming orders. Earlier this summer, CEO Musk suggested Tesla may have to halt taking orders while it attempts to catch up with those already in hand.
It wouldn’t be alone. Ford early this year halted taking orders for the 2022 version of the wildly popular Maverick pickup. And Cadillac has wrapped up orders for the initial version of its new Lyriq EV. Both want to catch up before reopening their order banks.
But there’s little doubt that the ongoing delay in bringing the Cybertruck to market has complicated matters. And even if Tesla is still going ahead with the truck, it could be years before it comes close to meeting the demand already in hand.
TheDetroitBureau.com has repeatedly reached out to Tesla and, more directly, to Musk himself. We will update the story if we receive any response.