Is the Tesla Cybertruck Actually Dangerous?

Let’s ignore the memes and jokes for now, and take a closer look at the Tesla Cybertruck’s design. It certainly isn’t traditional, which may have been the point. And based on the window fiasco, it still clearly needs some work, to borrow Elon Musk’s words. But details like the stainless steel body don’t just raise questions about range or towing. Since the electric truck’s debut, there has been some concern raised not just about its safety, but if it’s even road-legal. Today, we hope to address some of these questions.

Tesla Cybertruck crash safety

2019 Tesla Model 3 IIHS Crash Test
2019 Tesla Model 3 IIHS Crash Test | IIHS

One of the biggest Cybertruck questions raised on Twitter and sites like TopSpeed was safety. The IIHS has lately been forced to scale-up their crash-test barriers because of increased truck weight. Trucks as a whole still remain a safety concern. And the Cybertruck’s on-stage reveal didn’t necessarily assuage people.

True, the Cybertruck’s door panel didn’t dent when Tesla’s chief designer swung a sledgehammer at them, but the aluminum F-150’s door did. However, there is some debate over whether or not that hammer was specially designed to not cause excessive damage. Also, unyielding body panels were why cars of the 50s and 60s caused so many crash injuries. People smacked into solid steel—admittedly with no airbags—and it was their bodies that gave way.

Comparing IIHS side-impact test deformation between the barrier (white) and the SUV (yellow)
Comparing IIHS side-impact test deformation between the barrier (white) and the SUV (yellow) | IIHS

To be fair, that kind of rigidity is actually useful for side-impact collisions. In those kinds of scenarios, you don’t want the metal on the outside of the truck coming in. But, there’s a reason why the front of a modern vehicle is called a ‘crumple zone.’ For front and small-overlap crashes, the structures there are meant to crumple and bend, to absorb the collision’s energy. Wired reported that several automotive engineers were concerned that the Cybertruck appeared to lack such a crumple zone.

Tesla Cybertruck frame
Tesla Cybertruck frame | Tesla

Tesla may have given the Cybertruck steel panels three times thicker than the industry standard to attempt to compensate for this. But that would also make the Cybertruck a potential danger to other vehicles around it. All that weight traveling at road speeds? Automakers and safety testers would have to severely beef-up safety features to keep up.

However, the thick steel may have been required for another purpose.

The question of rollovers

SpaceX Starship Mk I
SpaceX Starship Mk I | SpaceX

The Cybertruck’s angular design, according to Musk, was due to the 30X alloy being too hard to machine-press. This is the same alloy used in the SpaceX Starship. However, as Motor1 pointed out, the spacecraft has curved panels around its nose. Meaning, Tesla could theoretically do the same to the Cybertruck. It would certainly address the problem with the peaked roof.

Tesla Cybertruck
Tesla Cybertruck | Tesla

Looking at the Cybertruck, some may be worried that it would perform poorly in the event of a roll-over. Now, the Tesla truck actually has a low center-of-gravity, due to its heavy, low-mounted batteries and motors. As does the Model X SUV, which is why the NHTSA had such a difficult time rolling one, as The Drive reported.

The Cybertruck might also be exempt from certain rollover standards, based on its large GVWR. According to the New York Times, vehicles with a GVWR up to 6,000 lbs have to support 3 times their weight on their roof. Tesla hasn’t released the Cybertruck’s weight, but it’s presumably more than the 5000-lb, aluminum-bodied F-150. And the Ford already has a GVWR over 6000 lbs.

The good news is, a triangular shape isn’t as weak as some might think. The triangle is actually one of the stronger shapes found in nature and engineering. It’s used in bridges, stadium spars, and buildings. But it requires the triangle to be very rigid. And a simple way of increasing rigidity is increasing thickness.

Tesla Cybertruck rear
Tesla Cybertruck rear | Tesla

This might be why the Cybertruck’s steel panels are so thick. Because Tesla—or more likely, Musk himself—wanted a cyberpunk truck body.

And while we’re at it, yes, a triangle is strong. But what do triangles often support? Arches. An arched roof may not necessarily be stronger, but it can spread the force of impact around evenly.

The Tesla Cybertruck’s functionality and on-road legality

Tesla Cybertruck
Tesla Cybertruck interior | Tesla

The thick steel panels don’t just affect driving range or crash protection, though. They also impact the Cybertruck’s day-to-day usability. As Autoweek and Jalopnik pointed out, the A-pillars are so wide, it would be difficult for the driver to see pedestrians. And all those pointy edges don’t inspire much confidence for pedestrian safety, which NBC News pointed out is a problem for European sales. Then there’s the question of front airbags, which are mandated by law. The Cybertruck interior shown doesn’t seem to have any.

Including airbags would just one of the things Tesla might have to change about the electric pickup before production. For one, there’s no rearview mirror or even side-view mirrors. True, as Motor1 points out, side-cameras are acceptable in some countries, but not in the US. What’s also not acceptable in the US is the headlight strip—the LEDs are fine, just not the shape. The truck also has no windshield wipers. While Roadshow reports Tesla has filed a patent for actual laser beams to clean the windshield, that technology will take some time to reach owners. If it ever does.

Interestingly, one thing the Cybertruck does fairly well is aerodynamics. Despite its blocky design, Roadshow reports the electric truck is more slippery than it looks. A fluid dynamics analysis found the Cybertruck could, in fact, reach Musk’s claim of a 0.30 drag coefficient. Albeit with some tweaking. Perhaps that’s why, despite InsideEVs’ more conventional-looking renders, the Cybertruck’s rear window and bed are shaped the way they are.

The Cybertruck’s design, then, clearly has some thought and logic behind it. But Tesla will need more of that to answer some of the truck’s present shortcomings. Otherwise, the electric pickup may indeed become dangerous.