Tesla Cybertruck may end up being a “side-show”, Morgan Stanley warns

Tesla fans are eagerly awaiting this year’s arrival of the iconoclastic Cybertruck, but the party may turn out to be a dud for the carmaker’s shareholders.

Elon Musk turned heads—and some stomachs—when he first unveiled the concept in November 2019, later defending its avant-garde styling as something that looked as if it was “made by aliens from the future”.

But skepticism has since been replaced by anticipation amid reports alleging enthusiastic customers have placed deposits for more than 1.5 million units before so much as test-driving the vehicle. 

It would be Tesla’s first new passenger car since its best-selling Model Y crossover debuted in 2020.

In a research note provocatively asking whether Tesla has since “outgrown” the model, Morgan Stanley presents the thesis that financially the pick-up could end up as a “side-show” to the core equity story—a halo product that shapes perceptions and builds the brand but not one that is relevant in terms of overall volumes.

“We feel the Cybertruck carries more value in a cultural/zeitgeist sense than in a direct economic sense,” it argued on Thursday, estimating volumes would be closer to 50,000 vehicles annually and mainly poach customers that buy high-end trucks like the Ford F-150 Raptor.

The argument is controversial in and of itself, given the investment bank admits its own clients reckon the truck will sell in the hundreds of thousands annually.

But it is that much more surprising given analyst Adam Jonas is a card-carrying Tesla bull, who if anything would be likely to talk up the vehicle’s potential to the stock’s price than pour cold water all over it.

Morgan Stanley aims to manage overly exuberant volume expectations

While the design has grown on people over time, the Cybertruck does have one disadvantage that could prove problematic after the first wave of vehicles are delivered: they all come out of the Texas factory looking identical. 

Teslas, by and large, are not known for their customization options ex-factory: the Model Y comes in just five exterior colors—white, blue, black, red and silver.

Since the Cybertruck features a stainless steel body, though, it cannot be painted. At best customers will have to use vinyl wraps to customize their vehicles.

“We encourage readers to ask themselves: how many Cybertrucks can roll up to a parent-teacher conference or youth soccer match at the same time before losing some of that indescribable … something?,” the bank asked, saying it was attempting to “manage expectations” among institutional investors.

Tesla has said it expects to start series production sometime in the course of this year. 

Price and trim levels have not been divulged ever since the company removed the original specifications from its site more than a year ago.

Notably, Musk himself didn’t rule out the idea the model may disappoint.

“To be frank, there is always some chance that Cybertruck will flop, because it is so unlike anything else,” he wrote in July 2021. “I don’t care. I love it so much even if others don’t.”

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