Tesla Inc. designed its stainless-steel Cybertuck to be something special: the first vehicle for the masses that doesn’t require paint. It’s no easy feat. The only other company to come close, DeLorean, sold just 9,000 cars before filing for bankruptcy in 1982.
When Tesla starts Cybertruck deliveries on Thursday, though, it may have a devised a cheat that DeLorean couldn’t: color wraps. A decorative film applied to the vehicle’s exterior — and a lucrative upsell Tesla has been trying out in California — could soften the edges of a vehicle seen as too harsh for mainstream buyers.
“It looks a lot more attractive with these wraps on it,” says Jessica Caldwell, head of insights for Edmunds, while scrolling through images of Cybertruck test vehicles spotted with custom prints. Across the auto industry, there’s been a notable shift toward boxy “masculine” automotive designs, compared to the bubble-shaped SUVs that have long dominated, Caldwell says. Tesla just went “maybe a bit too far.”
Seven colors to start
Wrapping vehicles in colorful coatings is nothing new. Wraps can make a Ferrari look like a chrome-plated bullet or transform a sketchy work van into a luminous billboard for lawn-care services. While some people think the Cybertruck looks like a refrigerator on wheels, others will see a blank canvas.
Most wraps require custom installations performed by third-party garages. In an industry first, Tesla quietly started offering in-house wraps for the Model 3 and Model Y in October — a possible trial run ahead of the first Cybertruck deliveries. The company has yet to say whether wraps will be offered for the Cybertruck specifically, but when asked in 2020 whether the truck would be available in color, Musk replied, “You will be able to wrap it in any color or pattern.”
Car wraps come in two varieties: form-fitted vinyl wraps and color-infused paint protection film (PPF). Vinyl wraps are cheaper — typically in the range of $3,000 to $5,000 — and offer more options for customization. PPF is nearly twice as expensive but provides greater durability and protection.
The wraps Tesla started offering for the Model 3 and Model Y are of the latter variety — a high-end film made to resist grime and able heal itself after minor scratches. (The company says damage caused by some automated car washes, for example, typically vanishes within 48 hours.) Tesla charges $7,500 to $8,000 to wrap the Model 3 and Model Y, with a choice of seven mellow colors, from “Satin Rose Gold” to “Stealth Black.”
The company hasn’t mentioned the possibility of customization, but Cybertrucks have been spotted with at least 10 detailed patterns and logo designs that would typically only be possible in vinyl. Those include a pair of neon Cybertruck logos sprayed across the doors, graffiti-style; Cybertrucks humorously made to look like a Ford F-150 and a Toyota Tundra; and several unusual takes on camouflage.
The idea of in-house Cybertruck wraps — Cyberwraps, if you will — may have been part of Tesla’s plan from the start. When the Cybertruck was being designed, Tesla had just undergone an excruciating production ramp-up for the Model 3 that, according to Musk, nearly bankrupted the company. Many problems originated in the paint shop.
Automotive paint is expensive and finicky. It clogs, coagulates, ripples and peels if the mix of chemicals isn’t perfect. It’s also the biggest source of pollution from car factories, responsible for over half of carbon dioxide emissions and more than 95% of toxic volatile organic compound emissions. With the Cybertruck, Tesla has a chance to forgo the paint shop altogether.
In-house wraps could also be highly profitable. The materials aren’t expensive, and most of the cost is tied to the tedious hours of labor required to apply them. The film must be stretched, smoothed, snipped and tucked precisely around every headlight, door handle, logo and trim piece. The Cybertruck’s expansive flat panels seem purpose-built make that work a breeze.
Profit from those $8,000 wraps, along with the $12,000 price tag on Tesla’s FSD driver-assistance features, could help keep the Cybertruck base price lower for value-oriented buyers. Capturing multiple segments of the truck market will be key if Tesla is to reach its sales target of 250,000 trucks a year.
Screaming for attention
Even if Tesla doesn’t offer wraps from the start, the opportunity isn’t going to be lost on third-party wrap installers, which have been preparing for Cybertruck’s release since 2019. Wrapmate, a vinyl-wrap company based in Colorado, says it will custom wrap a Cybertruck for $4,163. That includes design assistance, materials and installation by partner garages across the US.
“For businesses, I think this is a great idea,’ says Caldwell from Edmunds. “Obviously Cybertruck is very noticeable on the road and will draw attention when you wrap it with your business logo.”
If the past is any indication, Tesla will likely spend much of Thursday’s launch party on stunts meant to convince customers of the Cybertruck’s toughness: clips of low-caliber bullets emptied into the door panels, mud-flinging displays of off-road prowess, feats of towing strength equivalent to 1,000 horses.
But perhaps the biggest test, says Caldwell, will be whether customers will feel comfortable driving the thing out in public. Musk’s divisive engagement in right-wing politics over the past year only adds to the problem of driving a vehicle that screams for attention, she says.
“People wanted to be part of his movement, and it really helped Tesla sell vehicles,” Caldwell says. “Now, they are launching this vehicle when his popularity is very different. People will be a lot less forgiving.”