Zac Cataldo on Rivian, Tesla Cybertruck, & Coming Upheaval of Pickup Truck Market
2020, for all its faults, was a year full of milestones for the electric vehicle transition, but 2021 promises to hold even more. What will be the biggest Tesla- or EV-related happenings of this pivotal year? Who better to ask than Zac and Jesse Cataldo, a father-and-son team who preside over an empire of YouTube channels focused on sustainable energy and transportation?
I wasn’t surprised when Zac told me that electric pickup trucks will be one of the hottest topics of 2021, but a couple of his insights about the details were unexpected. For one thing, he expects charging infrastructure to be one of the factors that determine which brands will take the lead in the crowded pickup field.As we mentioned in another recent article, Zac and Jesse produce several weekly YouTube shows, including Tesla Time News, and they have an archive of over 1,000 videos, covering all kinds of Tesla, EV and renewable energy topics. They receive a tremendous number of questions and comments from viewers every week, so they’re closely in touch with the “grass roots,” and especially qualified to make some forecasts about what’s going to grab the spotlight this year.
The Rivian R1T electric pickup truck is scheduled to hit the streets in June, and Zac and Jesse have one on order. “Rivian, if they can pull it off, will have beaten pretty much everyone to the electric pickup truck game,” Zac told me. “It’ll be very interesting to see if they can handle the charging infrastructure. I have no doubt, having watched their truck evolving, that it’s going to be a really cool truck. But I think the Tesla Supercharging network is one of Tesla’s amazing assets.”
“Until you’ve experienced the Supercharger network, you don’t really understand how awesome electric cars can be. And I know this first-hand, because Jesse and I have been on road trips all across the US, and across Europe, and using EVgo or Electrify America, [or IONITY in Europe], not to say you can’t do it, but it’s a completely different experience than driving a Tesla using the Supercharger network. So, when Rivian comes out, we really want to test it out and see if you can drive up into the mountains and do everything fun you want to do in a Rivian, and be able to get there and charge it easily.
“Rivian [has been] talking about its Adventure Network. But are they going to partner with somebody? Where are these chargers going to go? What’s the rollout going to be? Because it could make or break their company. I know that it’s a very Lake Tahoe kind of vehicle, and I know that they’re probably going to cover Lake Tahoe in chargers, and there will be particular places — Zion National Park or Yosemite — but are they going to get everywhere? Tesla had times when they didn’t have good coverage in places, but now I’m looking at their updated map, and they’re saying in Q2 there’s going to be two Superchargers within 20 miles of where I live. And they’re also going into places that have never had any EV infrastructure, like way up in New Hampshire and places where you’re usually worried about heading to, because you don’t see any red dots on the map.
“I’m going through this weird dilemma — I’ve got a Model X, and I was thinking of selling it because we’re getting the Rivian. But will I be able to do all the things I can do in my Model X? I can just hop in it right now and go anywhere and not even think about it. So, that’s what we want to tell our viewers — if you get a Rivian, as fun as it might be, will you be able to go wherever you want? Because until you get EVs to do that, which is what Tesla has done, then you are still living in this world of worry and anxiety, and that is not the future of EVs.”
The Tesla Cybertruck will surely be one of the most eagerly awaited new products this year, but many people think its unorthodox looks will limit its appeal to mainstream truck buyers. Zac begs to differ.
“I think if Elon can pull out all the stops at Giga Texas, and actually get a Cybertruck out by December — I don’t know if he can do it, but if he can, getting a Cybertruck out in 2021 would be the story of the year,” says Zac. “I think it’s going to be a mind-blowing story, because to most of the world, it’s this kind of science-fiction, crazy-billionaire idea. But Jesse and I were at the unveiling event, we sat in it, we drove in it. It’s going to be an amazing truck, and I think that it really appeals to the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado driver.”
“The Rivian, just by its looks, you can tell that it’s kind of a Land Rovery sort of experience. It’s a little bit more luxury, and you can see that in the price too. I think that when Cybertruck rolls off the line and people start getting them, it’s not the people who have one on reservation that are going to be Tesla’s biggest customers, even though there’s already a million people signed up for it. I think that it’s going to be the people who see them on the road for the first time.
Zac and Jesse’s reaction to the Cybertruck (YouTube: Now You Know)
“We’ve all seen concept vehicles before, and they always look ‘Wow, I can’t wait to drive that thing.’ Then you get it for real and it doesn’t look that way. But Tesla doesn’t operate in that fashion. The Model X has the Falcon Wing doors, and the Model 3 looked almost identical to what was unveiled the first time we saw it. I think the same thing will happen with the Cybertruck. It’s stainless steel — they can’t stamp it to conform it to some shape, so it’s going to be this stainless steel box that’s going to blow every other truck out of the water. I think that there’s a huge portion of this country that has completely missed out on EVs, because a Model 3 is not the type of vehicle that most people drive.”
Another big story this year will be the start of Model Y production at the German Gigafactory, which will hopefully be up and running by the summer. “I think the Model Y got short shrift because of COVID,” Zac told me. “I think if COVID hadn’t hit, the Model Y would be a much bigger story because people would have actually gotten to experience it. Because of COVID, it makes it really difficult — you can’t just go hop in your buddy’s Model Y, so I think fewer people have gotten to experience it.”
“I think Model Y is actually going to overshadow Model 3. Americans love SUVs. It’s a great size vehicle. It can really handle families. It can handle what you need it for, which is to pack it full of stuff, right? And it looks really good—I didn’t think that they’d be able to pull off the looks of it quite so well. We just saw the prices drop because they came out with the Standard Range model, and I think when you get down into this price range, when you drop from a $50,000 car down to a $40,000 car, you really broaden the number of people who can afford it. I think a lot more people who thought, ‘I heard about Teslas but they’re expensive luxury cars’ are actually going to start to say, ‘wait—this is an affordable car.’”
Will there be further price drops this year? Will Tesla bring Model Y down into the $30,000 range? “With the single casting, that really is going to lower the cost for them, and I don’t know if they’ve actually even realized that price differential yet,” says Zac. “It’s possible that when they start actually seeing the results of that, they’ll be able to push that [cost reduction] to customers, but I don’t think it’ll be this year. According to Elon, it’ll happen in Germany first.”
Obviously, the election of Joe Biden, whose environmental plan foresees a massive shift to electric vehicles, represents a big package of good news for the clean-tech industries. At the time Zac and I spoke, this was a story that was somewhat under the radar, overshadowed by news stories about the pandemic and the election. Since then, President Biden has completely changed the equation with his announcement that the federal government will electrify its vehicle fleet. However, there are several less glamorous, but equally important, changes in the wind, including a major shift in the utility landscape.
“It won’t take much to really make the switch fully happen,” says Zac. “Just a little bit of government incentives for solar and wind, and kind of a peeling back the layers of corporate lies and deception about both climate change, and also utilities. With home rooftop solar, I think there’s so much that could be done there, but the utilities have locked this up for years by lying. They’ll say things like ‘solar is dangerous for the grid, blah, blah, blah.’ But now that we have low-price batteries, now that we have the ability to have grid energy storage, their arguments are just completely out the window. I think this is going to be a huge decade, where we move forward. Because it was an artificial block, it wasn’t a true technological block. It’s great to see California [mandating] that you have to put the ability to have solar on the roof, that you have to put in a charging infrastructure for new houses. I think you’re going to see more and more states [adopting similar measures] and it’s just wonderful to see it.”
“When you make the switch to EV and that thing actually switches in your mind, you start to look at each aspect of your life and go, “Hang on a second, this doesn’t make any sense. I want to put solar on my roof because now I actually have the ability to control where the power that goes into my car comes from.’ It’s no longer, do I go to Exxon or do I go to Shell? It could come from my roof. Well, then I want as much solar as I can possibly get.”
Zac and Jesse aren’t just journalists — they’re also activists, and one of their new missions involves helping people all over the world to organize environment-friendly projects on a local level. “The thing that’s going to make the biggest difference is for all these people who are having their lives completely changed to run for office. To get those people to say, ‘Knowing what I know now, what needs to change in the system?’ So Jesse and I set up a non-profit this year called Now We Act. We’re going to be unveiling a web site where you can put a pin on a map and you can say, ‘I’d like to start a project here.’ Whether it’s putting solar on the roof of your high school, or whether it’s trying to get your utility to switch [to renewable energy], you can get the help you need, so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel so that you can move your project forward.”
“There’s so many people out there who have great ideas about what they want to do in their communities — getting EV charging infrastructure, let’s say. But they don’t know much about how their government works. We know a lot about how to get this moving, and we know a lot of the people out there who do know, even if we don’t know, so we’re going to be connecting people up that can help you to get that going in your community. And then you can repeat that. You can help the next group to walk through those steps and even speed up the process. Because once you kind of get that ball rolling, we can get this rolling across the entire world pretty fast.”