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Tesla Cybertruck will get built-in solar charging option, Elon Musk says

The sun could add 15 to 40 miles of range to Tesla's radical new electric pickup.

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- 02:10
Tesla Cybertruck

The Tesla Cybertruck at its unveiling.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The Tesla Cybertruck will have a solar charging option that can extend its driving range 15 miles a day, Chief Executive Elon Musk said Friday. On top of that, "fold-out solar wings" could increase that extra range to 30 to 40 miles per day, he said.

"Would love this to be self-powered," Musk tweeted of the Cybertruck solar charging option, adding that the average car in the United States travels 30 miles per day.

That extra range might not be enough to survive the zombie apocalypse, and charging performance no doubt would depend heavily on clouds, trees, day length and the orientation of the car compared to the sun's rays. Still, a solar range boost to the electric pickup could be useful if priced right -- not to mention another point of differentiation compared with Cybertruck competitors like the Ford F-150.

Photovoltaic panels to charge car batteries haven't been a big deal on cars so far, since they require a lot of surface area to generate significant power, and even small, aerodynamic electric vehicles demand a lot of that power. However, solar panel efficiency has been gradually increasing, the Cybertruck has a lot of surface area and the photovoltaic industry has been advancing solar cells that can be built into transparent glass -- just the thing for a transparent Cybertruck roof. 

Solar charging could also be a nice way for Tesla to make Cybertrucks more profitable. Tesla customers commonly opt for extras like "full-self driving" abilities and specific colors that plump up the price tag.

Profitability is an important part of Tesla's future. It's skated on the edge of profitability for years, and ramping up manufacturing requires heavy investments. And the Cybertruck will be bringing in less money per truck than Sanford Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi expected by a whopping $7,000 to $10,000.

"The aggressive price of the Cybertruck does raise the question of how healthy gross margins might ultimately be," Sacconaghi said in a Friday research note.

At the Cybertruck announcement event, Musk said there'd be three Cybertruck base models, a 250+ mile range option starting at $40,000, a 300+ mile option starting at $50,000 and a 500+ mile option starting at $70,000. Cybertrucks will begin shipping in late 2021, Tesla said.

Tesla didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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