The Real Issue With the Tesla Cybertruck, According to Lotus Top Designer Ben Payne

The chief designer of Lotus, by which the Cybertruck is inspired, said the e-pickup's unusual design makes it very hard to mass produce.

Ben Payne
Ben Payne, vice president of design at British carmaker Lotus. Nina Sokolova for Observer

In 2013, Elon Musk paid nearly $900,000 for a modified 1976 Lotus Espirit sports car that was featured in the 1977 James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me. The iconic car inspired the design of the Cybertruck, Tesla (TSLA)’s first electric pickup truck, the Tesla CEO said.

Ever since its reveal in late 2019 (it’s still not available for sale yet), the Cybertruck has drawn a lot of controversies for its eccentric, retro-futuristic appearance. The acclaimed automobile designer Frank Stephenson, for instance, has predicted the Cybertruck may fall out of fashion very quickly because of its strange look.

But in the opinion of Ben Payne, the head of design at Lotus, the main issue with the Cybertruck is not its look, but whether such a design can be produced in volume.

“There are many technical challenges for engineers. If they can produce it for the mass market, it will be a real breakthrough,” Payne told Observer at a Lotus event in New York City on Sept. 7.

The Cybertruck’s flat body panels and vast windshield are not easy to manufacture, Payne said. “It’s extremely difficult to make flat and sheer surfaces, because you need a certain amount of shape to hold the [structure]. Also the precision, the very sharp lines, are pretty hard to execute.”

Lotus figured it out in the 1970s with cars like Espirit when flat design was trendy at the time. “But you don’t see it in cars today, because it’s very difficult,” Payne said.

Musk initially set a goal of beginning Cybertruck production in 2021, but the timeline was repeatedly thrown off apparently by engineering issues. In a leaked internal email last month, Musk told Tesla employees the Cybertruck needs to be “designed and built to sub 10 micron accuracy.” That means any discrepancies in┬ápart dimensions need to be imperceptible to the naked eye.

The Spy Who Loved Me
Actors Barbara Bach and Roger Moore, stars of the James Bond film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, sitting on the now-famous ‘amphibious’ Lotus Esprit at Pinewood House, UK, 1977. Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Tesla Cybertruck
The Tesla Cybertruck on display at the Tesla Giga Texas manufacturing facility. SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images

Is the Cybertruck a good-looking car?

Like Stephenson, Payne doesn’t consider the Cybertruck a beautiful vehicle by any means. “To me, beauty is something that’s appealing on a broad spectrum. I think for a car to be considered beautiful, it needs to transcend taste and also time,” he said.

Two good examples would be Ferrari 250 and Lamborghini Miura, Payne said. “They look as fabulous today as they did back then.”

However, having designed cars for more than two decades for both mass-market and luxury brands, Payne could see the Cybertruck find a meaningful market in today’s social climate.

“Today, mass-market cars are actually the ones where people are a little bit more bold,” Payne said. “You can see in Europe and China, people are trying more expressive designs in the lower-end market. So, maybe mass market is the place where there’s more freedom to be more bold.”

Tesla has marketed the Cybertruck as an affordable electric pickup, expected to be priced at around $50,000, to compete with the likes of the Ford F-150 Lightning and the Lordstown Endurance.

The Real Issue With the Tesla Cybertruck, According to Lotus Top Designer Ben Payne