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Is Tesla's Cybertruck the new status car?

Grace Kay,Madeline Berg   

Is Tesla's Cybertruck the new status car?

Tesla's Cybertruck isn't the kind of car that goes unnoticed. Its boxy shape makes it look like something from a movie set in the future, and at more than 18 feet long, its sheer size makes it difficult to miss.

This is exactly why it didn't go unnoticed that during the past few weeks, celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Pharrell Williams have posted their Cybertruck on Instagram. Jay-Z seems to have wrapped the truck in matte black with an all-white customized interior, and Bad Bunny was spotted pulling up to his concert in the EV. Most recently, Hayley and Justin Beiber took theirs to church. (Not all celebrity reviews have been glowing. Wiz Khalifa, who doesn't appear to own a Cybertruck, said it looks "like it came with pre-dirt on it.")

"Inherently, a status symbol is something that will turn heads, and it's difficult not to turn heads in the Cybertruck," Ivan Drury, an automotive analyst for Edmunds, told Business Insider.

But it's also possible that it was a fad that was at least partly manipulated by Tesla itself.

"Elon Musk would've done this to put it in the hands of people who will be photographed driving it and obviously provide it a certain association," Winston Chesterfield, the founder of Barton, a London consulting firm focused on the wealthy, told BI. "He clearly knows because he bought a social media platform, the power of celebrity."

Whether it was a grand marketing plan or not, it has worked. People are talking and taking notice.

"It's got this image of a must," Chesterfield said. "If you are a high-end person that wants to be seen around, you have to have the Cybertruck."

The Cybertruck isn't your average pickup

Musk has been hyping up the Cybertruck since it was announced in 2019.

"It will be the biggest product launch of anything by far on Earth this year," he said last year, adding that he thinks it's Tesla's "best product."

But when the Cybertruck was finally delivered — the first batch of about a dozen, two years late — it left many Tesla fans disappointed. It cost $20,000 more than expected and didn't have the 500-mile range that was promised.

But that hasn't seemed to deter certain members of the rich and famous.

From the start, it's been clear the Cybertruck isn't geared toward your traditional pickup truck market. With its focus on design and lack of attention to things like range and functionality, some experts say it wasn't really made for the typical pickup truck driver.

Ahead of the product's release, the carmaker tacked on (and then quickly backtracked) a $50,000 resale fee, a fine designed to prevent Cybertruck owners from flipping the EV for a much higher price within the first year of owning it. It's typically a clause associated with higher-end, limited edition vehicles like the Ford GT — not readily available vehicles designed to cater to the everyday worker.

"I make trucks for real people who do real work, and that's a different kind of truck," Ford CEO Jim Farley said in a dig last year, dubbing the Cybertruck a vehicle for "Silicon Valley people."

But it's not exactly your typical luxury status car, either

While the Cybertruck isn't a traditional pickup, it's not exactly a luxury car.

Its interior, for example, is very minimalistic compared to those of other luxury cars, lacking ultra-high-end features like a massage chair, champagne chiller, or built-in safe.

"It's not a work truck, but it's also not a luxury thing," Brian Moody, an executive editor at Autotrader, said. "It doesn't have any of the luxury amenities you'd expect. The inside is actually very plain."

And while it's exclusive given the sheer number available at the moment, owning it does not, inherently, mean you're very wealthy. The Cybertruck has a starting price of $61,000. That's much lower than the price of other status cars like the Mercedes G-Wagon and Rolls Royce Ghost, which have starting prices of $143,000 and $348,000, respectively. Owning one of those basically proves you have significant disposable income.

That scarcity factor — which tends to attract the status-oriented — is set to fade. Musk has said the carmaker aims to ramp up production to a level that Tesla will produce about 250,000 Cybertrucks per year by 2025.

A status car tends to be "something that there's a very small number of," Chesterfield said.

In this way, the Cybertruck is similar to other Tesla models which have started out as status symbols. Before the Model 3 and Model Y became mainstream vehicles, celebrities like Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, Will Smith, and Oprah Winfrey were showing off their Teslas.

The brand's image has changed as the company has continued to pump out more cars (it delivered over 1.7 million Model 3 and Model Ys last year) and slash prices. It's no longer Hollywood A-listers like Morgan Freeman or Steven Spielberg pulling up to a red-carpet event in a Tesla, it's your Uber driver or next-door neighbor.

"The Model 3 and Model Y have become so popular that it's like driving a Camry," Drury said. "If Tesla hits the goals Musk has set for the Cybertruck, it'll become just as commonplace."

Is Tesla behind the Cybertruck's sudden visibility?

In short, it seems like even Tesla doesn't know the Cybertruck's target demographics, Moody said.

Perhaps the reason we've seen it posted by so many prominent celebrities is that the company is trying to make that group its target demographic, either by giving them a car or offering to move them up on the waitlist.

The company traditionally doesn't advertise and isn't known to have given away cars before, and it didn't respond to a request for comment from BI. Tesla only began advertising last year. The carmaker has primarily relied on Musk's celebrity status to market the cars, but the billionaire's popularity has been fading since he took over Twitter.

The practice of bumping celebrities and the wealthy up on a waitlist or making them brand ambassadors is pretty typical, Moody said, adding that it isn't clear if Tesla is taking part in this type of marketing.

"There is almost guaranteed he put it earlier in the hands of those people because they were higher profile," Chesterfield said. "It basically means from day one, people associate the Cybertruck, which obviously is a very odd looking vehicle, with high-end celebrities, international celebrities, music stars, sports stars."

When this theory was recently raised, Musk said on Twitter that no one, including him, receives discounts on Teslas or is paid to promote the company's products.

"Well, they clearly have great taste!" he said.

Musk, himself, is an international celebrity — with many very wealthy friends and fans who would love to be seen in his latest creation.

"The finance geeks are just, they're beside themselves of how much they admire" Musk, Chesterfield said. "That would probably be reflected in them buying the vehicles and making sure they absolutely have their order in for a Cybertruck."

But there are just as many people who won't buy Teslas due to the Musk association, he added, which could be almost as big an obstacle as its divisive look in cementing the Cybertruck standing as a status symbol.

"When you roll up in a Cybertruck, you're either the coolest kid in town or the most hated person around, and you just have no idea which until you start looking at all the faces around you," YouTube car reviewer Kyle Conner said. "It's a really polarizing vehicle."



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