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I’m not here to dunk on the Cybertruck’s off-roading capabilities (or lack thereof). I’m not even against over-the-air software updates. But it’s becoming obvious that Tesla shipped its “complete” Cybertruck with major features still missing, planning to just fix it through a future software update. This is not an acceptable direction for the automotive industry to take.

Some quick background: a “differential” is a series of gears in a traditional axle that allows one tire to spin faster than the other. It is important for allowing cars to go around corners. But in situations with limited traction, it will allow one wheel to spin out of control while the other doesn’t spin at all. So off-road-ready vehicles have either “limited slip” or fully “locking” differentials.

A tri-motor Cybertruck doesn’t need a locking differential on the rear axle, because each wheel has its own motor. But it could benefit from one up front. And a dual-motor Cybertruck without a limited-slip or locker will struggle in many situations.

The Tesla Cybertruck towing a trailer
Tesla Cybertruck | Tesla

Tesla promised locking differentials for its Cybertruck. We’ve seen early Cybertruck prototypes stuck in the snow during tests, which Tesla admits have no lockers. We’ve also seen Tesla testing prototypes with various locker configurations, so some form of the software exists. But not on the trucks it is selling to customers.

In early January, a Cybertruck owner posted a photo the owners’ forum. They had attempted to activate the locking differentials and instead they gotten an error message instead.

Locking Differential Controls Coming Soon

Tesla Cybertruck

Some other owners forgave the situation: “This is typical and expected as an early adopter of brand new tech.” (Spoiler, not in the automotive industry, it isn’t). Others made a good point: “Let’s hope it’s not a subscription feature.”

More recently, a Cybertruck owner filmed off-roading attempts in Texas. Ben of Voyage ATX admitted that with fully open differentials, his dual-motor Cybertruck struggled to keep up with a Subaru. He took that as evidence that “You don’t have to spend $80k to have fun off-road.” But I have a slightly different takeaway.

Over-the-air software updates are great. But automakers should not rely on them. We are seeing exactly this debate as Tesla and the NHTSA decide how to deal with Tesla software the government deems unsafe. If other automakers hadn’t had a software solution ready for launch, they would have fallen back on a hardware solution, such as an off-the-shelf limited-slip differential. This philosophy of, “We’ll just fix it in post-production,” is irresponsible and dangerous. I only hope it doesn’t infect more of the industry.

Next, read how Cybertruck owners must clean bird poop and dead bugs immediately to avoid corrosion, or see the Voyoage ATX Cybertruck off-road in the video below: