Investor Alert

Nov. 23, 2019, 9:06 a.m. EST

Tesla ‘Blade Runner’ pickup truck could be so futuristic that it leaves buyers cold

Tesla to reveal its ‘sci-fi movie’ pickup truck Thursday

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By Claudia Assis, MarketWatch

Getty Images
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk speaks during the unveiling of the new Tesla Model Y in California on March 14.

Some on Wall Street were sounding skeptical about the new Tesla Inc. pickup truck, the Silicon Valley car maker’s first foray into the top auto segment in the U.S.

Chief Executive Elon Musk has called the all-electric truck a “‘Blade Runner’ pickup truck,” “out of a sci-fi movie” and unrecognizable from the pickups that have been sold in the past decades. Tesla /zigman2/quotes/203558040/composite TSLA -0.91%  is scheduled to reveal it Thursday night in the Los Angeles area.

Roughly one in five vehicles sold in the U.S. January through October was a pickup, up from 17% of the vehicles sold in all of 2018, according to Edmunds. Ford Motor Co.’s /zigman2/quotes/208911460/composite F -0.65%   F-150, launched in 1948, has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for more than a decade, with no indication it will be dethroned soon.

See also: Tesla’s best-selling sedans get reliability nod from Consumer Reports

Wall Street was choosing to focus on the here and now, though.

“We expect focus to be on how well the actual design resonates with pickup buyers,” Emmanuel Rosner at Deutsche Bank said in a note Monday.

“Based on previous comments, starting price could be <$50k, high-end versions could feature 400-500 miles of range and 0-60mph acceleration <3.4 seconds, but very little has been disclosed about the actual design of the truck.”

There’s a risk the vehicle would be so futuristic as to not attract “traditional pickup buyers, leaving it a lower-volume niche product,” Rosner said.

Related: Tesla’s Q3 profit is being scrutinized by analysts — and some don’t like what they see

For Karl Brauer, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book, Tesla won’t even try to appeal to traditional truck buyers.

“Everything from its styling to its drivertrain will be a major departure from standard pickup trucks,” he said. As a technology statement for tech-oriented professionals and Tesla fans, that departure is likely to be seen as an asset, not a liability, Brauer said.

Out of character for Tesla, the company’s commentary around the new “cybertruck” has been relatively limited, said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst with Bernstein. Tesla is likely to target the pickup’s production to the end of 2020 to early 2021, with deliveries in 2021, Sacconaghi said.

Back in March, Tesla revealed the compact SUV Model Y just ahead of its first-quarter results. Many analysts faulted Tesla for that timing, and the reveal renewed concerns about production issues. The stock fell 5% after the Model Y unveiling.

“After the model Model Y launch fizzled on concerns this will cannibalize the Model 3, we expect a similar response to the truck,” said Craig Irwin, an analyst with Roth Capital Partners.

“We do not expect initial truck production until mid-2021, around a year after fist Model Y production,” Irwin said in a note. Tesla could also walk back from prior suggestions that the “cybertruck” would start at less than $50,000 and with the 400-500-mile range, he said.

Read more: If Tesla and Ford Motor are about to wage war for the electric-car crown, you wouldn’t know it from this exchange

Roth reiterated its sell rating on the stock with a price target of $249. Deutsche Bank also kept its hold rating on Tesla shares with a price target of $290.

On average, Tesla stock is rated a hold with a price target of $314.83, according to FactSet, which tracks 32 Wall Street analysts on Tesla. The average price target would represent a 9% discount over Monday’s prices.

Tesla shares have gained 1% this week amid the buzz ahead of the cybertruck. So far this year, the shares are up 7%, compared with gains of 24% and 19% for the S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.01%  and the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +0.68% .

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Claudia Assis is a San Francisco-based reporter for MarketWatch. Follow her on Twitter @ClaudiaAssisMW.

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