Elon Musk standing in front of a Cybertruck with two bullet marks in its windows.

The Tesla Cybertruck was supposed to stop bullets. Turns out its owners should be more afraid of a bit of soap.

An “unapproved lubricant” used on the Cybertruck’s accelerator pad caused it to slip off and get trapped in a bit of trim above the pedal, according to a recall report [PDF] by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If you’ve been on TikTok this week, you might have seen what that can mean, thanks to a viral video of a Cybertruck owner whose accelerator jammed in the “pedal to the metal” position.

Result: Every single driver who paid for a Cybertruck, all 3,878 of them, now has to haul their extremely angular EV to their local dealer in Tesla’s biggest recall to date. And as with a lot of news these days, how you react to the recall likely depends on whether you’re an obsessive fan of Elon Musk.

The “masterful gambit, sir” crowd can easily play it down. After all, no one died. Nobody has even crashed, that we know of, as a result of this error. Tesla has offered a prompt fix (well, 20 days after it received its first customer complaint about the pedal, so prompt-ish). The lubricant-toting workers are at fault, not the company. Besides, look at the ongoing disaster at Boeing, which approved the use of dish soap in manufacturing the same door seal that blew off during a 737 Max flight in January.

Next to Boeing, Tesla looks like a paragon of soapy safety.

And yet judging by the ongoing slide of Tesla stock, which reached a one-year low after news of the Cybertruck recall hit Wall Street on Friday, not everyone takes this view. After all, it’s not the workers’ fault someone told them to put a completely unnecessary rugged-look pad on the accelerator. Nor should workers be blamed for rust marks appearing on a stainless steel truck, or a trunk that can pinch fingers, or a warning not to wash it in direct sunlight, or a flashing red “pull over” notice appearing on its screen minutes after at least one customer started driving.

A punchline on wheels

Crucially for Tesla’s future, we may have reached a tipping point: The Cybertruck has become a punchline in a way that its owners cannot get out from under. The joke is that they are dupes who paid through the nose for an extremely expensive vehicle that looks like it was designed by a child and does not actually perform many of the functions we expect from a truck, and that they’ll put up with any design flaw whatsoever.

You can see this clearly in the most-liked, and highly representative, comment on that viral TikTok. “Every Cybertruck owner is like ‘I paid 80k for this and it almost killed my entire family. Small issue. Love the car!'”

Actually, the owner responded, he paid $122,000 with extras.

“Sick flex, brother,” replied another TikTok user. “I also paid $122k to be a ludicrously irresponsible threat to any vehicle or pedestrian in my vicinity.”

Cybertruck comedy, still legal, continued over on Musk’s Twitter (which, in common with Stephen King and at least one potential juror in the Manhattan trial of Donald Trump, we still refuse to call X).

Tracy Chapman’s signature hit provided the perfect joke …

… while the notion of the Cybertruck as a “snowflake” vehicle that cannot encounter any real-world conditions took hold.

Perhaps most devastating for Musk: Dril, one of the most beloved accounts on the service, chose this moment for his first Cybertruck tweet.

The recall also revealed, inadvertently, how far short of Musk’s ambition the Cybertruck has fallen thus far. The CEO estimated 250,000 Cybertruck sales per year in a recent earnings call. It’s fair to say that 4,000 Cybertrucks delivered in the first 6 months is a little short of that goal. Not only is that 10 times less than the number of Rivian EV trucks sold so far — and just to be clear, Rivian is in trouble too — it’s also less than half the total number of Deloreans sold in the U.S. in the 1980s.

The Delorean was a stainless-steel flop that sent the automaker behind it into bankruptcy, despite the car later earning a star turn in Back to the Future. Tesla, the world’s largest EV manufacturer, is clearly in a better position. Still, like John Delorean, Musk seems to have bet the future of his company on this quirky vehicle.

Tesla could not have chosen a worse time to ask shareholders to reinstate a $56 billion compensation package for the CEO that a judge already struck down. The company’s second-largest shareholder, a self-described “Elon fanboy,” just announced he is voting against.

The result of that vote, in June, may decide where this chaotic company and its mercurial CEO is going next. By then, the supply of Cybertrucks on our roads may have dwindled down as the recall goes into effect.

Our national reserves of schadenfreude, meanwhile, have never looked healthier.

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