The instantly polarized reaction to the Tesla Cybertruck revealed Thursday is a good example of history repeating itself.
While automakers typically make conservative vehicle design choices to maximize sales, once in a while they deviate from the industry norms.
That’s clearly the case with the Tesla Cybertruck, whose triangular design, stainless steel body and unconventional truck bed inspired a chorus of laughter, praise and puzzlement.
But you don’t need to dig too far back to see other examples of where automotive design went wild. Each time, the unusual choices inspired legions of critics but also devoted followers.
Here are some of the most polarizing vehicle designs of this century:
1. Tesla Cybertruck
Let’s start here.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long said he wanted to make a futuristic pickup and even acknowledged that people might not like it. He succeeded.
Analysts are comparing the vehicle to something out of the “Mad Max” or “Blade Runner” films. That’s fine, but practicality is in doubt. Musk bragged that the vehicle would have a massive towing capacity, payload capability and acceleration. But industry analysts said the vehicle is unlikely to appeal to work-truck buyers.
It also didn’t help that the glass windows, which Musk said were bulletproof, shattered upon impact with a metal ball during a demonstration.
Tesla Cybertruck design stuns:‘Eccentric,’ ‘eye-popping’ or ‘weird’ ‘piece of junk’?
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Initial reactions to the Cybertruck have ranged from “eccentric” to “piece of junk.” But Musk has time to make the improvements because it won’t be available until “late 2021,” Tesla says.
2. Pontiac Aztek
No list of polarizing vehicles is complete without the Pontiac Aztek. Often regarded by critics as one of the ugliest vehicles of all time, the Aztek nonetheless inspired some devoted fans.
So what if the vehicle was the poster child for General Motors’ failures in the lead-up to its 2009 bankruptcy?
“The Aztek came out in 2001, and it was truly ugly,” Autotrader wrote in 2017. “It had 3-spoke wheels, bizarre angles, some sort of weird dual hood situation, and the entire bottom half of the car was covered in plastic cladding like it was wearing an apron. It was crazy.”
Still, it was “a very special car” and an “idol of our generation,” Autotrader said.
If you say so.
OK, so this isn’t a single vehicle. It’s an entire brand of vehicles.
GM made these military-inspired beasts for about a decade. The automaker discontinued the Hummer brand during its bankruptcy after sales tanked and critics ripped the vehicles for being astonishing gas guzzlers. Big shock, but 9 to 10 miles per gallon in city driving is a detriment to the environment.
“Frequently held up as the prime example of what was wrong with the American auto industry, Hummers were the height of outrageous, in-your-face trucks — and delivered some serious profits for GM,” Cars.com wrote in 2013.
But to reverse Batman’s famous phrase, you either die a villain, or live long enough to see yourself become a hero: GM is reportedly considering reviving the Hummer as an electric vehicle.
4. Chrysler PT Cruiser
Like GM, Chrysler was floundering in the years before its bankruptcy, and this car was in the thick of it.
The Chrysler PT Cruiser was designed with a retro appeal. It was “immediately controversial — some loved its throwback looks, reminiscent of fat-fendered cars of the 1930s and 1940s, while others simply found it to be ugly,” Cars.com reported.
A brief period of infatuation eventually gave way to complacency. Chrysler killed the PT Cruiser in 2010.
5. Ford Flex
Ford announced in October that it’s killing the Ford Flex. Eleven years after the SUV’s debut, it no longer fits in the automaker’s lineup.
With its boxy design, the three-row Flex drew a devoted following while provoking snickers from people who disliked the vehicle’s unusual shape.
“People who own the Flex love it, but it became almost a cult vehicle and the numbers were just too small,” Autotrader analyst Michelle Krebs told USA TODAY last month.
6. Nissan Juke
Talk about funky. This car came straight out of the era in which auto designers were obsessed with appealing to millennials.
Well, it appears that millennials weren’t interested in quirkiness. The vehicle was discontinued after the 2017 model year and eventually replaced with the Nissan Kicks.
“If there were a way to describe the Nissan Juke, it would be a bionic frog,” MotorTrend magazine wrote in 2015. “The crossover was intentionally designed to stand out in public, and it can either be blinding or earn adoration for its quirkiness. Add to that an exterior color palette with vibrant shades, and you’ve got a fun-to-drive crossover with plenty of character.”
When Nissan redesigned the car in 2014, USA TODAY’s Chris Woodyard asked, “Can an ugly car get even uglier?”
7. BMW i3
Let’s just say this was out of character for BMW.
In a significant departure from its typical style, the German luxury brand produced this unconventional electric vehicle design.
It was perhaps among the best examples of a “compliance car” in the industry – a vehicle made to help meet fuel efficiency regulations in California and other markets. But did the design have to be so bizarre?
The Financial Times reported in September that BMW will not commit to a new version of the i3, though it will keep building the current model for now. Can you say compliance?
8. Nissan Cube
Another example of a boxy car, the Nissan Cube was something of an ancestor to the more popular Kia Soul, which, although unconventional, seems to have found an audience.
The Cube could just never escape its reputation as an odd duck.
“When the Cube was in development, the designers must have tossed around words like ‘fun,’ ‘quirky’ and ‘toaster,'” Autoblog wrote in 2013.
The car was discontinued about a year later.
9. Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
Give them credit for trying something new.
Introduced in 2011, the Murano CrossCabriolet was the kind of strange mashup that we once compared to bacon-flavored ice cream, frisbee golf and mules.
An SUV crossed with a convertible. Alrighty then.
When the vehicle was revealed at the 2010 Los Angels Auto Show, CNET wrote: “Is it a brilliant creation of a new vehicle segment or an experiment in packaging gone horribly wrong?”
The droptop SUV was axed from the lineup in 2015.
Contributing: Chris Woodyard
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.