This piece won third place in Onomatopee’s CritiCALL design criticism open call. I argue against the false optimism of electric vehicles and question Elon Musk’s ulterior motives.
This essay is part of the publication, Criticall, available for purchase through Onomatopee Publishing.
Spits of fire burst up through a rolling fog. The crowd cheers as a mechanical beast slowly approaches the stage. One by one, humans clad in black leather dusters and dark sunglasses begin to emerge from its core, they walk silently outwards and into the night. Another man in black appears and examines the angular creature, quiet but present in the dim light. The man turns to the now roaring crowd, raises his hands and cooly exclaims “Well, It doesn’t look like anything else.”
This was the unveiling of the Tesla Cybertruck in November 2019. Elon Musk continued the demonstration by instructing lead designer Franz Von Holzhausen to smash the ‘exoskeleton’ of the car with a sledgehammer, throw steel balls at the windows, and show the results of the car being shot at with 9mm bullets.1 These demonstrations attempted to showcase the durability of the truck’s body (which failed when the steel ball smashed two windows). Instead, these violent testing methods revealed ulterior values hidden within Tesla’s fundamental design motives.
These values of strength, speed, and versatility are represented in the impermeability of an armoured truck that seats a family of six.”
When electric cars transitioned from ‘futuristic’ to ‘forthwith’, people began to see the benefits and possible solutions that these cars could provide. “We should all be driving electric cars!” cried our hip uncle at every dinner table. As Toyota Prii became popular, we rejoiced that fossil fuel dependency would soon be a thing of the past. Now, 20 years later, we are beginning to see that our earth-friendly future is much more complicated than a garage equipped with a battery outlet. The mines that provide the lithium that power these batteries are devastating surrounding landscapes and water supplies. In Chile, lithium mines use 65% of the region’s water as 500,000 gallons of water is needed to produce one tonne of lithium.2 As Tesla is the largest electrical vehicle automaker in the world, the false altruism of an environmental reputation becomes apparent.
Telsa’s Cybertruck website states they are “now entering a new class of strength, speed and versatility—only possible with an all-electric design.”3 These values of strength, speed, and versatility are represented in the impermeability of an armoured truck that seats a family of six. Instead of safety being displayed through crash test dummies and reputable vehicle ratings, Musk paints a picture of riot-like violence being the main concern of passenger safety. As class structures further divide with the rise of fake news, algorithmic feedback loops, and now, a worldwide pandemic, the Cybertruck’s tank-like structure redefines what a grocery trip would look like in a dystopic suburban future. Crowds gasped when Musk revealed that the standard price for the Cybertruck will start at $49,999 – a similar price to many mid-sized SUVs currently on the market. As we rush to purchase these vehicles that will protect us from one another, Musk continues to pave his way to space with SpaceX. If all works out for Elon, he will be looking down at us rioting masses from his spaceship, cooly exclaiming “well, it doesn’t look like anything else.”
1. Tesla CyberTruck Unveiling Event https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ebVZhjaut0&t=565s 2. The spiralling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction https://www.wired.co.uk/article/lithium-batteries-environment-impact 3. https://www.tesla.com/cybertruck