Tesla pickup: Better than an F-150? Sportier than a 911? For $49,000? Reality-check time

The electric truck may be great, but let's not get crazy

"You should be able to buy a really great truck for $49K or less," Elon Musk said over the weekend on the "Ride the Lightning" podcast hosted by Ryan McCaffrey. If Tesla actually does produce such a pickup and it's anything like what we've heard described for the past few years, $49,000 will be an amazing price point. But before we all get too excited, let's break the news down a bit.

Musk floated the idea of a game-changing electric pickup truck as far back as 2013. Since then, we've heard about its futuristic cyberpunk Blade Runner-esque styling, range of 400 to 500 miles (maybe higher, Musk has said on Twitter), and size — it would supposedly have the ability to seat six people and be large enough to carry a competitor's fullsize truck in its bed. In addition, it'll boast standard dual-motor all-wheel drive and have "crazy torque" and "a suspension that dynamically adjusts for load."

All of that would add up to "a truck that is more capable than other trucks," Musk said on the podcast. "The goal is to be a better truck than an F-150 in terms of truck-like functionality and be a better sports car than a standard 911. That's the aspiration."

More capable than the sales-leading Ford F-150? Better as a sports car than Porsche's torch-bearing 911? All at a price point of less than $50,000? Sounds awesome, but don't count on it all being possible in that entry-level truck. Musk added, "There will be versions of the truck that will be more expensive." In other words, don't expect to get unsurpassed levels of utility AND sports-car performance at the surprisingly attractive entry price that's being cited all across the Internet.

We do want to point out that Musk didn't frame any of what he said on this podcast as a promise or official statement. Instead, he used words like "should," "goal," and "aspiration." That said, Tesla has a history of going to market with the highest-performing and therefore highest-priced configurations of its vehicles (the company even increased the price of its upcoming Model Y before selling a single unit), which means an entry-level version of the pickup could come years after the truck's official announcement.

What's more, Tesla has made it difficult to actually buy entry-level vehicles. A month and a half after finally announcing the long-promised $35,000 Model 3, the automaker removed the option from its online ordering tool and said customers would have to either call them up over the phone or visit one of their stores in person if they wanted to place an order. So even if the $49,000 pickup price wasn't meant to be intentionally misleading, there are serious doubts that such a truck will ever actually be sold in any real volume — if it ever hits the market at all.

For the sake of comparison, the Rivian R1T is expected to start around $69,000 with a range of 230 miles or so. Top-level trucks from Rivian would offer a range of 400-plus miles and cost $90,000. Tesla might want to undercut those prices, but it certainly won't do so with anything that drives like a sports car while carrying another truck in the bed.

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The last pickup-shaped nugget Musk dropped on the podcast was that the teaser image Tesla fans have obsessively studied for clues (the one at the very top of this story) is actually of the front of the truck. Another look makes us think that perhaps there's a light bar that follows the top of the truck's face, with a long, flat hood that creases sharply down on either side.

If that's the case, Tesla's pickup will look a whole lot different than any of the renderings you've probably seen a hundred times already. That includes the one just above that Tesla itself showed off in November of 2017 that appears to be based on the cab of the automaker's semi truck platform. So, to cap off all of this Tesla truck news, we still have no idea what the thing will actually look like.

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