10 Magazine, March 2020 (PDF)

If the memes and divisive internet-fuelled arguments around the Tesla Cybertruck verify anything, it’s that it’s being looked at through the wrong lens. Come on, it’s not a super ute, it’s our dystopian-dream car.

There are an estimated 68m doomsday survivalists in America, and thousands in Australia, with numbers around the world rising like the seas. And with recent global events in mind, can you blame them? These are bunker-digging, canned-food-hoarding, camouflage-wearing, off-grid enthusiasts who take the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” to wuthering heights. They are often savvy problem solvers, well versed in postapocalyptic scenarios, engineering and geography. A survivalist’s defining feature? They never look back.

For some time, I have suspected that Elon Musk might be the world’s greatest prepper.  Here is a billionaire who turned the electric car into a symbol of status, put bioweapon defence mode in an SUV, invested in an escape plan to Mars, revolutionised over-the-air updates for cars that can be deployed in emergencies at Tesla’s (read: Musk’s) will, brought autonomy to the mainstream, and tweets futureenhancing ideas as fast as POTUS does the opposite. He refuses to pander to convention, hovering in the middle of a Venn diagram featuring a lone wolf, capitalist, cult leader and counterculturalist – almost all peak survivalist traits. But among the luxury cars, flamethrowers, power banks, landing rockets (!!), AI and neurotechnology advancements, there has been one polarising creation that proves Musk is not only crystal-ball gazing and reading the room, but he has also tapped into the mainframe of the cultural zeitgeist – the Cybertruck.

“Los Angeles, November 2019. The skies are polluted. The world is addicted to oil,” a hologram of Grimes (the Canadian singer-songwriter and Musk’s partner) said, opening the theatrical Cybertruck reveal event last autumn. It was a very Blade Runner-like moment, and considering the film was also set in November 2019, an esoterically cinephilic reference. “But we’re here to offer a solution – the Cybertruck.” The slightly brutalist and fiercely wedge-shaped pickup recalls a time where the future (particularly when it came to mass-market items) was exciting and optimistic.

In all its eco-industrial oddness and bright confidence, the Cybertruck is a polarising work of modern art – something we haven’t seen much of lately among the masses – and it has the futurists of the 20th century to thank. To get here, we first had to have Giorgetto Giugiaro and Marcello Gandini’s concept cars of the 1970s, fashion by Paco Rabanne, Pierre Cardin and Walter Van Beirendonck, architecture by Le Corbusier, the practice of the Bauhaus school and the concept art of Syd Mead. The latter lived just long enough to witness the Cybertruck, commenting that it is “stylistically breathtaking” and it has “completely changed the vocabulary of the personal truck market design”. Musk took further inspiration from the iconic amphibious Lotus Esprit S1 (designed by Giugiaro) that appeared in the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, a car that Musk actually owns. Familiar yet unfamiliar and cold, and hopeful, the Cybertruck pushes against every conceivable convention and is now even ingrained in internet culture. If it feels more like a concept car out of a video-game world than something coming soon to ours, I’d bet that’s intentional. One of the most hyped video games of 2020, Cyberpunk 2077, is also of this mood. A kind of Grand Theft Auto but more dystopian tech-grime, it stars Keanu Reeves, features music by Grimes and is set in a “metropolis of the future, where body modification has become an obsession”, as Reeves said at the game’s launch event last year. How very LA… and very replicant…

The Cybertruck’s disruption is in the blurring of fact, fiction, past, future and pop culture – I like to call it simulation noir. Think of it this way: if the mean machines of Mad Max were the Antipodean response to the oil crisis of the 1970s, and The Terminator was Hollywood’s reaction to computerisation, the Cybertruck is a tech-noir return serve in a world on the brink, coming from the industry with the most to lose. It is fast, its panels are flat and easy to manufacture, it’s claimed range reaches beyond 800km, it has a hefty payload and towing capacity, and when charged on solar, it can be completely self-sufficient. Additionally, the Cybertruck will arrive semi-armoured – a growing desire for Americans concerned about gun violence. With the international Doomsday Clock now sitting at 100 seconds to midnight, the Cybertruck may just be the dream machine of the survivalist.

Consider the sheer audacity, the references, the art and the pushing of boundaries of what a pickup truck, one of the world’s most-sold vehicles, should be, and I don’t think there has been a more exciting car to be revealed in the past decade. And it’s for this reason that I think Musk’s prepper truck is grossly underestimated, particularly as we face an uncertain future in which disasters might soon be the norm and fossil fuels a taboo. I find myself asking the same question: is Musk that much of an early adopter he has created mobility for the apocalypse? And furthermore, set a new, postmodern industrialist aesthetic for the future? Only time will tell.