Home » I’m Actually Going To Defend The Cybertruck’s Brake Lights

I’m Actually Going To Defend The Cybertruck’s Brake Lights

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Yesterday, our pals over at The Drive published an article with the headline “Even the Cybertruck’s Brake Lights Don’t Make Sense,” and while I enjoy poking fun at the Cybertruck as much as the next guy (unless that next guy is the one who thinks the Cybertruck will be “the best product the world has ever seen”) in this case I think the criticism is a bit unfair. I don’t think the Cybertruck’s brake lights are bad; in fact, while they’re hardly perfect, I actually think they do a pretty admirable job of what the whole raison d’etre of a brake lamp is: getting your attention. So, since these have been called out, let’s take a deeper look at the Cybertruck brake lights.

I’ve actually addressed these brake lamps before, in a previous Cybertruck story from the beginning of the month, where I included this little video clip of the brake lights in action:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Here’s what I said about the brake lights then:

“What I like about this brake lamp approach is that there is a clear shift both in lamp brightness, as is traditional, but also in the visual graphic of the lamps themselves, switching from one long unbroken bar into three bright elements, and I think that does a lot to capture the driver’s attention. It’s also interesting how pretty much all of the main taillights are at the high level of the center-high-mount stop lamp (CHMSL), so they’re all on the same linear plane. It seems to work well.”

And, I stand by that!

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Now, in The Drive story, this video is included, with its associated commentary:

The issue seems to be that during braking, the light pattern changes from the one long taillight bar to a three-segment setup, with a pair of bright square lights at either side and a bar in the middle. I believe this is done to emulate the three-brake-lamp setup required by law, with a center high mounted stop lamp (CHMSL) and two brake lights. The concern about if that is “enough light” really shouldn’t be a concern, because there are federal standards that define a minimum size and brightness. For example, for the side stop lamps, they must be at least 7.75″ square inches in area, and the CHMSL must be at least 4.5″ square inches. So if this thing will be road legal, then it’ll be held to the same standards of light area as everything else on the road.

Here’s what The Drive has issue with regarding these lights:

The issue here is that less of the Cybertruck’s rear lighting is solely dedicated to brake lights than to the taillights or turn signals, the former of which deactivate during braking. Although the lights at the edges become more intense under braking, their small surface area means that overall, the Cybertruck emits less light when it’s slowing down. That’s pretty much the inverse of what drivers have come to expect. This could lead to drivers of following vehicles becoming confused, assuming a Cybertruck is coasting or accelerating when it’s braking, and vice versa. Best case scenario, the result is traffic flow problems; worst, rear-end collision.

Now, here’s why I don’t think this is a big deal: there’s not really less light being emitted, because the intensity of the brake lights themselves are significantly higher than the taillight bar, and that amount is set by legal standards as well. When the brake lights are activated, they’re essentially no different than any current car that has smallish taillights that re-purpose the taillight bulbs for brake lights, too. Look:

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Jeepcomp

This setup really isn’t any different than, say, a Jeep, and I don’t see anyone writing about how Jeep brake lights don’t make sense. In fact, it’s likely better than how a car like the Jeep does it, in that the switch from not braking to braking is much more noticeable, as the taillight changes quite dramatically from one long bar to three very bright segments. On a car like the Jeep or any of the many other cars that share brake and taillight areas, all you have to go on is a change in brightness.

The Drive story also states

“However, the FMVSS does not appear to prohibit deactivating taillights during braking, so the Cybertruck’s taillights as seen here seem to be legal—even if they are perplexing, and potentially dangerous.”

…and they’re right, there are no regulations against de-activating taillights when brake lights are on, otherwise there would be millions of cars on the road made illegal, ranging from Dodge Neons to pre-’73 VW Beetles to Jeeps to AMC Hornets to Corvettes and the list goes on and on. With so many cars already on the road that do just this, I have trouble seeing how it can be perplexing or dangerous.

That said, designing taillights that way isn’t ideal! It was mostly done because, frankly, carmakers are cheapskates. Ideally, all the major taillight functions should have their own independent areas, so tail and brake and turn indicator and reverse lamp can all co-exist and illuminate in harmony, simultaneously as needed.

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More crappy is that the Cybertruck has red rear indicators instead of amber ones. The look when off could have been kept the same by using red/amber LEDs, which exist. I think a better Cybertruck taillight setup could be like this, keeping in mind when the tailgate drops, brake/tail/turn have to all work in the outermost edge:

Cyberlights2

It’s also worth noting that if there are plans to export the Cybertruck outside of the US, it will be required to have amber rear indicators. So why doesn’t Tesla just suck it up and design them in now?

Just having the amber indicators there would help so much. With the tailgate down, the taillights can revert to the just red corner squares for stop/turn/tail, which is adequate, if not great.

That light bar could be used for all kinds of more advanced effects as well, seeing as how its essentially a very wide, narrow LED display. Flashing brake lamps for emergency stops, sequential indicators, all these things are possible! Here’s two examples: flashing brake lights for hard stops, and brake lights that grow as brake intensity increases:

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Ct EmerbrakeCt Barke Intens

Of course, if Tesla doesn’t want to put in that much effort, there is another cheap and proven option that could solve the complicated taillight issues, even with the tailgate down:

Boxcyber

Slap a couple brackets and a pair of cheap box taillights on there: they’re good enough for Jeeps and pickups and millions of box trucks and 18-wheelers and delivery vehicles, so why wouldn’t they work here? They’re DOT-approved and you can get replacements in gas stations for like $20.

Remember, I love these things:

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Overall, though, while I think there’s plenty of things to criticize the Cybertruck about, the brake lights just aren’t one of them. They’re not perfect, but they’re also no different than many cars already on the road, and, really, piling on about them just feels like trying to find something to complain about.

Look at me, defending the Cybertruck! Feels kinda weird.

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Neil Hall
Neil Hall
7 months ago

While this design does appear to meet FMVSS requirements, I don’t think it can meet the UNECE requirement of the CHMSL actually being mounted higher than the left and right stop lamps, or a CHMSL rather than simply a CMSL or even CSL. Maybe there is a way to meet it, perhaps by using only the top layer(s) of LEDs for the CHMSL, and the lower layer(s) for the stop lamps. Or maybe the truck isn’t planned for sale outside North America.

Aaron Slater
Aaron Slater
7 months ago

I see no reason to hate the Cybertruck’s tail lights when there’s so much more about the Cybertruck to hate on.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
7 months ago

“For example, for the side stop lamps, they must be at least 7.75″ square inches in area, and the CHMSL must be at least 4.5″ square inches.”

This is what we sorely need for the ECE regulations! So far, ECE regulations don’t have the minimum allowable size, only the minimum illumination from a certain distance and at certain angle. This leads the manufacturers to pack a group of darkness-piercing LED lamps in a tiny space. Without lens diffusers, they are fucking painful to look at during the night! This also explains why many European manufacturers selling their vehicles in the US choose to use the least-common-denominator red taillamps.

Remember this article about the “bizarre regulations” in some countries, asking the drivers to set handbrake and release the brake during the traffic stop?

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
7 months ago

“NMNUTZ” is a great plate, though, not gonna lie.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
7 months ago

Counterpoint to the flashing brake light setup: Flashing brake lights are a scourge on society, are illegal, and shouldn’t be tolerated.

I get the argument that flashing lights get your attention better, but that’s why they’re only legal on emergency vehicles. Also, the flashing lights attracting attention aren’t entirely a good thing. IMO, flashing brake lights are more distracting and disorienting than anything else and impact depth perception, making it harder to focus on how far away the vehicle is. Also some drivers are epileptics and flashing brake lights could give someone a seizure. At least on emergency vehicles you’re not supposed to stare at the flashing lights, you focus on pulling over to let it pass you or give you a ticket, and then when it’s gone, you go back to driving.

Flashing lights are one of those things that you need to use responsibly, but way too many people are careless with. Flashing brake lights are commonly installed by dealerships as a way to upcharge you on a new car, but they shouldn’t be a thing, and you should never buy a car with them.

Tangent
Tangent
7 months ago
Reply to  Austin Vail

Flashing brake lights are great when they activate only under hard braking. Those cheap dealership add-ons that flash them with every single application are just irritating at best and are overly distracting in slow moving traffic.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
7 months ago
Reply to  Tangent

I could see them being useful in hard braking, sure. But yeah, none of the flashing brake lights in the U.S. are set up that way, and I think they cause more problems than they solve.

Ben
Ben
7 months ago

Flashing brake lamps for emergency stops

Sadly, this has been ruined in the US by the (probably illegal) flashing CHMSL bulbs that morons insist on installing. They’re so prevalent that it would be impossible to implement the emergency brake behavior they have in Europe. Flashing brake lights here now just mean “I touched my brakes”, which, you know, is also what the brake lights turning on means. Hence my annoyance. We’ll never get this useful feature here now because some idiots decided to add a completely redundant flash under normal braking.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
7 months ago
Reply to  Ben

Fun fact: They are illegal! Only emergency vehicles are allowed to have flashing lights.

Problem is, the police don’t enforce flashing brake lights being illegal, so dealerships keep installing them so they can upcharge you $1600 or so on new vehicles for the “feature,” often lying to your face and telling you it’s required by law, when it not only isn’t, it’s the exact opposite.

It would be so simple for police to issue fix-it tickets to drivers with flashing brake lights, but for some reason they don’t. Either they don’t know, don’t care, or are being paid to overlook them.

PlatinumZJ
PlatinumZJ
7 months ago

That solid red bar looks too much like it’s braking (or the brake pedal is stuck). While it’s very obvious in the video when the driver actually applies the brakes, it’s not clear to me why this setup is necessary. Aside from maybe, possibly looking a little cool, it’s not an improvement over the traditional brake light setup IMO.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
7 months ago

Sorry but I have to respectfully disagree-and I was tentatively ok with the idea when looking at stills but seeing the video it’s just weird. I’m a UX designer and there is solid research showing that the higher the level of clarity a visual cue has, the lower the mental load needed for recognition. I don’t want even a micro second more need for cognition when someone is braking in front of me.

Our brains rely on established patterns for recognition, in the case of something like this I will recognize it’s a brake light-but it will take me a half second longer because it’s different from the established pattern. This becomes even more problematic if you think about additional automakers deviating from a common pattern of how brake lights activate. Imagine if every car maker had slight variations on how their brake lights activated even if they all reached the same end point of two low one high-it would be subtle chaos, especially in heavy traffic, increasing the cognitive load of driving in traffic and for no clear gain that I can see besides some vague brand differentiation.

Lights, brake lights, and turn signals should all have clear and unambiguous differentiation and the goal should be for near instant recognition. I’d add I think all turn signals should be mandated to be amber, and frankly all versions of turn signals that deviate from the norm-i.e. Audi and Mustang with their sequential turn signals shouldn’t be allowed. Sorry to be a buzzkill but like shifters this is a wheel that shouldn’t be re-invented unless it’s due to rigorous research showing there’s a better way-which surely isn’t the case with the MuskTruck. And to be clear I think there are ways to be creative and interesting with lighting that doesn’t mess with driver’s, pedestrian’s, cyclists and anyone else who shares the roads rapid recognition of driver intent.

Brett
Brett
7 months ago

Amber is better but US regulations make it prohibitively expensive.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
7 months ago

On the one hand I agree with almost all of that, but as the owner of a 1966 Ford Thunderbird with the greatest execution of sequential turn signals in all of history, VIVA LA SEQUENTIAL TURN SIGNALS, SCREW YOUR BORING LIGHTS!

Sequential turn signals are more elegant and fun, and very clearly indicate the direction of turning. I’ve had people compliment my turn signals after I’ve parked. I cannot say that for any other vehicle I’ve ever driven, and I will not have this sequential turn signal slander, they are objectively the coolest external lighting solutions to ever have graced the exterior of a vehicle and I will never shut up about how much I love them, they are my favorite aspect stylistically of the whole car.

Every car with a full-width taillight design should have sequential turn signals, sequential all the things!

Last edited 7 months ago by Austin Vail
Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
7 months ago
Reply to  Austin Vail

Lol not disagreeing that they’re fun at all-and trust me I’m torn on this because in general I like creative car design that tries to think outside the box. That’s pretty sweet you have a ’66 T-bird, haven’t seen one of those in ages!

Honestly I think my main point was as much about amber turn signals as sequential lights. If sequentials were amber-I think they would work quite well but I haven’t seen them that I recall. Basically whether it’s blinking or sequential, if it’s an amber signal I know immediately it’s a turn signal not a brake light. I’ll also admit (probably un-popularly) I used to bike to work a lot and biking you can often only see one side of a car readily so if they have amber turn signals I know instantly they’re moving over where as if the signal light is red I don’t know right away if that’s a turn signal or just a brake light-but I admit this is a niche use case.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
7 months ago

I have actually seen amber sequential turn signals on a vehicle – in the form of an aftermarket LED light strip underneath the tailgate of a Dodge pickup with its factory taillights/turn signals heavily tinted. Ironically, despite the cliche of “I tinted my taillights so they work less,” the light strip under the tailgate made signaling very clear, it glows brighter red when braking and sequentially indicates in amber when turning. I don’t think that setup would work for my T-bird though, not in an elegant fashion at least.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
7 months ago
Reply to  Austin Vail

Ha yeah please don’t add LEDS to your T-bird lol

Genewich
Genewich
7 months ago

I’m onboard with not screwing with brake lights, I gust don’t think it matters on turn signals because they are so unreliable as an indicator of what a driver’s going to do anyway. They’re barely used and often signaling the wrong intent.

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
7 months ago

Mustang turn signals are incredibly unambiguous and much easier to notice than a lot of tiny amber rear signals. Each individual section is big enough to be a turn signal on it’s own and the pattern clearly shows what it’s indicating. I agree the Audi ones are too small.
Hover the Mach E has amazing signals that should satisfy both of us: https://youtu.be/FB62pUHNanU

Last edited 7 months ago by Chartreuse Bison
Myk El
Myk El
7 months ago

Plenty of other reasons to dislike the design. Tail lights are pretty low on the list of concerns.

Stryker_T
Stryker_T
7 months ago

god, that truck just looks so stupid.

The Dude
The Dude
7 months ago
Reply to  Stryker_T

That’s why I actually like it. I’m no Tesla fan, but kudos for them for being willing to actually sell something so ridiculous.

Stryker_T
Stryker_T
7 months ago
Reply to  The Dude

fair, I like ridiculous, but imo it’s not even pleasingly ridiculous.

Grey alien in a beige sedan
Grey alien in a beige sedan
7 months ago

I don’t want to even talk about brake lights… I just want to talk about how awesome that NMNUTZ license plate is. Wonder if Torch has that personalized plate on the ChangLi or the Pao?

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago

Red turn signals, especially when they turn off the brake or tail lights, should be a crime.

I wonder if you can program the heckblende LED matrix to flash obscenities about the following driver’s mom. That’d be an Elon thing to do.

Isis
Isis
7 months ago

You need to pay the subscription to unlock this feature. Now that’s an Elon thing to do.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
7 months ago
Reply to  Isis

Paying monthly money for the privilege of insulting someone on the road is kind of a next-level petty insult.

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
7 months ago

The (first) facelift Atlas/Tiguan do a similar thing where the entire graphic changes from tails to brakes… the difference is that the brake lights on the Tesla are smaller than the tails.. the VWs take up the same basic area, but totally change in shape. I feel some people would view the lost real estate of lit upness as the opposite of what’s happening… on most cars, tails and brakes are separate bulbs, so the combo of brakes/tails takes up more lit space on the rear of the car, or if it’s the same area, the brakes are at least brighter.

Yes, this draws attention, but it’s still confusing.

I’m also deeply irritated by Tesla lighting in general, and NTSHA for letting them off so easily.. case in point.. the MK7 Golf. VW never brought the full LED heads/tails stateside because the turn signals weren’t 1″ tall.. but somehow the .5″x3″ signals on the model 3/Y were somehow okay? look at videos of both and tell me which is brighter/more obvious. Also, some 3/Y have red signals and some have amber.. this doesn’t seem to be a legal issue as much as a build issue from what I can determine. It’s so damn irritating.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
7 months ago

The thing that really gets me is the Tesla headlights. I can often tell when a Tesla is approaching me because one of the lights is blinding and the other one is normal (they can’t aim them from the factory apparently.

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
7 months ago

in the newer ones, it seems like some elements within the same light are aimed differently, or there’s some math not mathin on the reflector shapes, so from certain vantage points, even properly aimed, it’s blinding. but I definitely know what you mean. The whole thing just screams double standard to me.

BOSdriver
BOSdriver
7 months ago

The turn signals are almost impossible to see from the front as well. Almost every other car on the road that uses LED running lights wither dims or shuts them off when the turn signal is activated. With a Model 3 running at you, you just see a bright light and then for a split second, some amber, as it turns.

Brett
Brett
7 months ago

They do some cheeky tricks on the m3. The gray transparent plastic around the stop light blade counts towards optical area (min area is 50 square cm). Also the build location and model year indicates whether m3 has amber or red turn indicator. Newer m3 and all mY have amber. Not a build issues.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
7 months ago

I mentioned the Tesla lights too in my comment for having a combo light, a small one at that, for a good size taillight, and almost added I shouldn’t throw stones since I have such a Golf, but at least that combo light makes it a more visible size compared to the Teslas like you say. Also just seemed cheap of VW considering they have almost always have had a separate brake and signal light, even on models where they were all red.

J Ludwik
J Ludwik
7 months ago

I live in a market with amber turn signals, I have noticed before that the tesla model 3 has tiiiiiiiny tiny break lights. I’m not sure if this is the same for US market model 3’s? But if those lights are fine, then the cybertruck’s are much bigger already.

El Barto
El Barto
7 months ago
Reply to  J Ludwik

I too live in one of those markets and think both the rear brake lights and indicator lights are pathetically small on some Teslas. And the weird part is, the whole tail light assembly is much bigger and has so much unused real estate.
“Euro-style” small lights is a stupid design trend – manufacturers should be like Audi, who do a very good job with their tail lights.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
7 months ago
Reply to  El Barto

Oh boy do the new toyota brake lights piss me off. They are the mythical point light source only talked about in engineering textbooks.

Mikan
Mikan
7 months ago
Reply to  J Ludwik

US-market Model 3s use the red brake lamp as the turn signal, I think that the tiny amber turn signal is just squeezed into the housing for international markets.

Madewithgenuineparts
Madewithgenuineparts
7 months ago
Reply to  J Ludwik

It used to be the big outer ones were taillights and the small inner strip was a red line that did stop and turn, but now (at least on Ys) the big outer one is tail and stop and the small strip is a little amber indicator

Ok_Im_here
Ok_Im_here
7 months ago

The lights are fine, the back of the truck, kinda ugly, and I say that while admitting that I don’t hate the design overall as much as I should.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
7 months ago

What Cybertruck tail lights look like won’t affect me.
If I see any in the wild I plan on giving them a wide enough berth that it won’t matter.
I’ve been preparing to avoid them for years, by using Cadillac Escalades as practice.

Last edited 7 months ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Last Pants
Last Pants
7 months ago

Little touches like the custom license plate is what sets this place apart. I was entertained and educated by this article. Mostly entertained. 10/10

Oldskool
Oldskool
7 months ago

I always gathered that the CHMSL was supposed to be center and closer to eye level. To quicken the follower’s reaction to the brakes being applied. Only reason it was called “High” was because most taillights were on the low side, and in 1986 when the CHMSL was mandated, some taillights were still even located in the bumper.

I think brake lights should have their own dedicated space. So when they come on it’s like “Bam!”, and not like “ok this was a taillight just a second ago, now part of it looks burned out and another part looks brighter”. I already see enough of that shit with shorted sockets and bad grounds here in the salt belt. Vehicles with shared brake and taillight locations by design at least only ADD light with braking, they never take it away.

Actually I think with today’s technology, brake lights should illuminate progressively based on change in wheel speed, regardless of pedal input. So if you just disengage cruise control or you’re a left foot brake rider, you don’t need to cry wolf to people behind you. But if for whatever reason your car slows or stops quickly, with or without pedal input, the lights better be on full. Hit a deer that jumps out of nowhere, lights on full. Flashing would be better. In slow moving traffic, 1 segment for gradual slowdown, on full if you have to stop quick. And I think brake lights should be on by default at least with car on. You’re stopped in the road for any reason, lights should stay on. Like some DRLs, this feature will go off with the parking brake so you don’t need to burn up your lights sitting at home or in a parking lot or whatever.

Another issue I see with this taillight setup is the location. The way the air will flow over the truck and off that lip, it will very likely build up a pile of snow right over the light bar in winter. And being LED they won’t generate enough heat to stay thawed.

Last edited 7 months ago by Oldskool
Brett
Brett
7 months ago
Reply to  Oldskool

Unfortunately most of what you suggested isn’t legal.

Highland Green Miata
Highland Green Miata
7 months ago

The brake light pattern is dot-dash-dot, Morse code for R. So when you are pulsing the brakes you are saying RRRRRR. Is there a hidden meaning here? Discuss.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
7 months ago

Interesting, if you press and hold is it more of an ‘Arrrrr’ then? Like pirates!?

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
7 months ago
Reply to  Cool Dave

Only if you work the right blinker just right.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
7 months ago

Rrrrrr, the sound of tires screeching to a halt?

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
7 months ago

You’re wrong and this is a bad take. Except for the box taillights, that’s a good idea.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
7 months ago

I think you’re right, it’s not great or ideal, but not wrong or unique. I’ve definitely seen older cars that deactivated the taillight when the brakes were activated, which you would only really know when the filament for the brake light was blown. Not quite the same as this because the brighter brakelight would normally fill that up, but I don’t think that’s against the law.

I do think a CHMSL can’t be connected by the tails, or even dim. Dodge Chargers and Darts with the racetrack rear tail/brake lights had a separate CHMSL rather than just brightening a top center part. The last Civic coupe and the current Civic hatch, the rear light units connect across the back, with a CHMSL in the middle. The taillights flow into that section when on, but fade out as you get closer to the center, aka the CHMSL. I’d think they would connect it if they could, but they’d also have to turn off like this does.

Also I just think the ratio of taillight area to stop/signal light isn’t great on some Teslas, at least the 3 – there’s enough light unit it could have a separate brake and turn signal, but it’s a combo unit. But they’re hardly the only ones either.

Speaking of – you know who’s still at it with bumper-mount stop lights? GM with the Buick Envista – saw my first one on the road the other day and was shocked the lower part was the brake/turn lights.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
7 months ago

Based on the Hertz rental car data that came out this week, you definitely don’t want to get hit in the back of your TeslaTruck cause the repairs are gonna be stunningly expensive.

MrLM002
MrLM002
7 months ago
Reply to  Speedway Sammy

Can you think of any unibody vehicle where repairing chassis damage isn’t expensive?

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
7 months ago
Reply to  MrLM002

Most all the Hertz rental cars are unibody these days. So the comparison seems valid. The gigacasting chassis and the unrepairable battery pack make Teslas vulnerable to a crash write-off. Over time, insurance rates will reflect this in full.

MrLM002
MrLM002
7 months ago
Reply to  Speedway Sammy

And most major automakers are trying to get into “gigacasting” right now. I don’t like it much but it is what is happening.

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