Bulletproof Cybertruck? A “Bullet Test” Ballistics Analysis

Tesla’s video of its Cybertruck taking a hail of gunfire left more questions than answers. Is it safe to call this truck bulletproof based on this test? 

I still remember the long night I spent in the Kuwaiti desert. It’s something we were warned about, but sometimes you take a risk, and it just doesn’t pay off. Murphy’s Law hit, and it was our fault this time. The armored M1151 Humvee used by the 120mm mortar section of our cavalry troop was stuck in the soft sand. Are you supposed to use a Bradley as a tow truck? Not usually, but in a pinch, it can work after several failed attempts at trying to dig out a roughly 8,000-pound Humvee with doors as thick as Rip-It cans. 

We were on a training mission, and their M1064 had been damaged in a hurricane on the transport ship on the way to our 9-month rotation in the Middle East. We went straight to the training area, and this up-armored Humvee was far from ideal to keep up with the Bradleys. This was just a training mission, but many of the units that were going “up north” in 2016 – 2017 already had what they needed to be positioned up there. Armor is great, but it has its drawbacks. Being a Field Artillery Officer part of an Armored Combat Brigade made me really appreciate the amount of peace of mind steel can bring between you and some very angry folks in the neighborhood. Everything from our Logistics Trucks (HEMTTs) to our M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and of course, the wonderful M1 Abrams tanks came with a significant amount of armor. Even our own M109A6 Paladin self-propelled artillery howitzers had some level of protection from small arms fire. 

That preamble is to provide a bit of background as to why my interest peaked when I saw something said by one of the most controversial CEO’s in the car industry. According to a post from Elon Musk on his social media platform, X, “We emptied the entire drum magazine of a Tommy gun into the driver door Al Capone Style. No bullets penetrated into the passenger compartment.” Well, that sounds cool. I’ve long been fascinated with the Tesla Cybertruck since it was first announced. While some immediately claimed it was ugly, others found the design unique and radical. I found myself somewhere in the middle and was mostly curious to see if it would ever truly come to market. In November of 2023, that finally happened, and it’s here in all its bulletproof glory. Right? 

A claim of being bulletproof carries with it a lot of weight. There is a lot of responsibility when laying that moniker on a product. That is quite a guarantee protecting you from something that is designed to kill you. But what does bulletproof really mean? To what extent is the Cybertruck bulletproof? Is this enough to matter? Not all armor is equal. Not all bullets are equal. The video shown during the Cybertruck event and a longer version shown on Tesla’s YouTube channel got me thinking about this claim and what it means. From the video, we can draw some initial conclusions but also many more questions remain.

In the video Tesla provided, we see Tesla engineers firing at the vehicle from approximately 30 feet away. They shoot four firearms at the Cybertruck with the corresponding ammunition: 

-Thompson M1 submachine gun (firing 230 gr Sellier & Bellot .45 ACP JHP)

 -H&K MP5SD Integrally suppressed submachine gun (firing Magtech 9mm FMJ) 

-Benelli M4 12-gauge shotgun (firing Zuber 00 Buckshot, 9 Pellet)

-Glock 26 Subcompact Pistol (firing Magtech 9mm FMJ)

At first glance, these are all fairly venerable firearms. The Thompson was considered one of the best firearms used for urban combat in WWII by US troops. The H&K MP5SD is one of the quietest guns in the world, even to this day, and was used by various special forces groups around the world for decades. The Benelli M4 is the current combat shotgun for the US Marine Corps. The Glock 26 is a very popular concealed carry gun in the US. But something about this selection seemed strange. After all, this was a barrier penetration test on the Cybertruck’s 1.8-mm thick stainless steel exoskeleton doors. Something caused me to look into this further as the selection of firearms had something in common that concerned me about this claim of the truck being “bulletproof.”

A Few Quick Discussion Points To Understand About Armor & Ammunition

The first important thing we need to discuss is armor classification. A certain amount of protection is needed to protect against a particular level of firepower. There can be a significant amount of energy difference with regard to certain handgun cartridges and rifle rounds. There can even be differences between ammunition in a similar cartridge (more on this later). There are a number of ways armor can be classified. 

In the US, the most commonly used standard is the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) body armor ratings. They range from Levels I, IIa, II, IIIa, III, & IV. The higher the number, the more protection that is offered. The “A” designations refer to a lighter level of protection than without, as there may be a specific caliber exception (for example: Level IIA does not protect against all pistol ammo that Level II provides protection from some of the higher pressure / higher velocity ammo of the same 9x19mm and .40 S&W cartridges). The testing for these armor classifications is done by firing five rounds of a particular caliber at 5m (16ft). Due to the advances in aramid fiber and other materials, the most common soft body armor available today is NIJ Level IIIa and above. Nearly all commonly available soft body armor and hard ceramic or steel plate body armor are capable of stopping any commercially available handgun or shotgun ammo. 

When it comes to barrier penetration performance with ammunition, the most important fact is bullet type and velocity. The faster the bullet travels, the more likely it can defeat any particular barrier. This is largely the reason that rifle ammo is capable of penetrating more effectively than most pistol ammo, even when the bullets themselves might be much lighter. Bullet weight is measured in “Grains (gr),” which equals 1 / 7000th of a pound. A 62-grain, 5.56x45mm NATO round from an M16 is capable of penetrating hard barriers better than a 9mm pistol round from a Glock 26. Why? The bullet travels at 3,000 fps from the rifle rather than approximately 11,00-1,200 fps from the pistol. That is nearly triple the speed. 

The last component that is important to understand regarding bullet penetration performance is bullet type. There are soft nose, open tip (does not expand), hollow point (expands), frangible, and full metal jacket bullet types. The two that we will focus on are the two identified in the bullet test: Hollow Point and Full Metal Jacket. 

Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) is what you typically think of when you think of a standard bullet. They are round at the front and either come to a point or are more dome-like, depending on the ammunition. Most common modern bullets are typically copper coated and filled with lead on the inside, although, there are also pure copper bullets as well as other less common materials. The military uses FMJ, and these types of rounds are typically best suited for penetrating hard barriers and armor. They intend to transfer all of their kinetic energy without expanding, or, sometimes, by fragmenting. 

Hollow point ammunition is designed to flatten and expand in diameter by up to 50%. This design has two characteristics. It is intended to create a large wound cavity as soon as possible in soft tissue. It is also intended to prevent over-penetration against hard barriers. For these reasons, police and private citizens frequently choose hollow point ammunition as it is intended as a self-defense cartridge that places a preference on terminal ballistic performance in soft tissue over penetration against hard barriers. 

An Analysis of the Bullet Test Video

Tesla released a nearly four-minute-long video on their YouTube channel. They show not only all four firearms being fired at the doors of the Cybertruck, but also slow-motion footage of the rounds impacting the door, and commentary from the Lead Cybertruck Engineer, Wes Morill. This provides a lot of useful information to analyze how the test was performed and what stood out. 

The video starts showcasing the firearms and ammunition used. This allowed me to identify the exact ammunition used. The ammo types do not stand out as anything particularly unusual. The video then goes on to show the shooter standing approximately 30-40ft away (the Cybertruck is 19ft long, which gives us a reference) from the truck. Then slow motion footage is shown of each test in great detail. From this, we can determine a few things. 

  1. The 9mm ammunition used was a FMJ due to the fragmentation of the bullet, as seen in the high-speed camera.
  2. The .45 ACP ammunition used in the M1 Thompson Submachine Gun was hollow point; as you can see the round flatten and expand upon impact with the circular copper portion of the round coming apart from the flattened lead portion.
  3. The shotgun buckshot is, in fact, a 9-pellet, rather than an 8 or 12-pellet OO buck, as confirmed by the slow-motion footage
  4. Two different types of ammunition for the shotgun are shown, as an unidentified Red 12 gauge shell is seen in a MatchSaver shotshell holder near the chamber that is different from the white and black Zuber shells used for the test. It is uncertain if this is purely for aesthetics or was also used in the test.

The tests show that almost no rounds have penetrated the passenger compartment. This is impressive compared to many standard cars that use thinner aluminum or steel body panels. The loadbearing HFS (Hard as… Steel) appears to be working as claimed so far in this test. There are three caveats to note. Two 9mm rounds impact nearly on top of each other following the Glock 26 test. “We got a little bit of cracking,” Wes notes when looking at the impact. The other is when the Shotgun 00 buck was analyzed more closely, two pieces of buckshot had hit in the same spot, which led to the steel door being penetrated. However, enough kinetic energy had been lost at this point that it did not enter the passenger compartment. The third caveat is a noticeable dent and possible entry hole on the edge of the back of the rear door. They do not provide any commentary on this and only focus on the front door panel following this portion of the test. 

What does this test prove? 

At the beginning of the video, Wes Morrill states, “We did not design the Cybertruck to be bulletproof. But if it is, that’s just icing on the cake.” There are several issues this test presents towards proving that this truck is “bulletproof.” Did this test show that it stopped nearly all ammunition fired at it? Yes. Were the ammunition and firearms selected for this test, and the way it was conducted a fair representation to confidently call this truck “bulletproof?” I would argue no. 

The first issue that I have with this test has to do with firearm and ammunition selection. While .45 ACP and 9mm are fairly common calibers, neither is particularly well known for barrier penetration, especially with what was presented. I will elaborate on each firearm. 

The Thompson Submachine Gun is a venerable WWII submachine gun. The 10.5” barrel gives it an additional muzzle velocity compared to many .45 ACP pistols, such as a 1911 with a 5” barrel. This roughly additional 100 fps places the 230gr weighted bullets at roughly the same velocity as some modern +P (higher velocity ammo with more gunpowder) ammunition. However, the bullet type used for this test was hollowpoints. The .45 ACP cartridge is already an infamously slow pistol round that was originally developed in 1904 when bullet technology did not allow for the higher chamber pressures associated with more powerful ammunition today. The ammunition is already subsonic and loses velocity fairly quickly. A slow cartridge firing a bullet designed to expand and not over-penetrate is most likely going to be a fairly easy round to stop. This type of ammunition is easily stopped by NIJ Level IIA body armor, the second lowest rated body armor that is uncommon today due to the demand and ease at which it is to create more protective body armor that is capable of stopping all modern handgun ammunition including much more powerful and faster calibers such as 10mm Auto, and .44 Magnum. Even still, it appears to have possibly penetrated once by the rear door. 

The two 9mm firearms used for this test were interesting choices for a barrier penetration test. The most powerful single projectile fired in the test was most likely the 115-gr bullet fired from the Glock 26. But the Glock 26 is an interesting choice for this test as this is the shortest barrel double stack 9mm Glock pistol. Pistols come in different sizes, and barrel length impacts velocity. Up to a point, the longer the barrel, the higher the muzzle velocity of the ammunition as it exits the barrel. Why would they not show this test with a Glock 19 or Glock 17, which are among the most common handguns in the United States with a 4” or 4.5” barrel? These compact and duty-sized pistols would result in an additional 50-100 fps of muzzle velocity and represent a much more common pistol. It is unclear why the subcompact pistol was chosen for this test. 

The MP5SD is the most unusual firearm for this test. This firearm is unique as it is one of the few firearms with what is called an integral suppressor. Generally, most suppressors are threaded onto the very end of the barrel of a firearm and help reduce the sound signature by slowing down the gases behind the bullet that leave the barrel at supersonic speeds. These gases, when put through a suppressor, slow down enough that they become subsonic. Without creating a “sonic boom” at the muzzle, the sound signature is greatly reduced, even if the bullet itself is traveling over the speed of sound. However, the MP5SD has a suppressor that is built into the entire handguard and along the entire length of the barrel. The tiny holes that allow these gases to escape behind the bullet and slow down begin less than 1” after the chamber where the bullet is first fired. This not only slows down the gases of the bullet, but it also has the effect of slowing down the bullet itself. This integral suppressor is designed to allow nearly any 9mm bullet to always stay subsonic, along with the gases behind that were supposed to be propelling it faster. 

What does all this mean? It means the MP5SD has some of the slowest muzzle velocities of any 9mm submachine gun. Despite the size, this is firing bullets slower than the subcompact pistol fired previously. This is by its design to stay quiet as a weapon built for clandestine operations for special forces teams. As a result, this is going to be one of the most unlikely 9mm firearms to perform well on an armor or hard barrier penetration test. 

The 12 gauge 00 buckshot test was fairly standard but one pellet did appear to penetrate the HFS steel door but not penetrate through into the passenger compartment. It is important to note that shotgun ammunition varies greatly. They can vary from birdshot (filled with hundreds of tiny pellets for hunting small birds) to buckshot (only 6 to several dozen larger pellets for hunting medium-sized game) and slugs (one single lead projectile like a rifle bullet). The 00 Buckshot consists of 8-12 .33” diameter lead pellets that are typically 50-70gr in weight. Buckshot gains its reputation for being powerful due to the fact it is firing all of these smaller projectiles at the same time. However, each individual pellet contains less energy than smaller handgun ammunition comparable to a .380 ACP (similar to a 9x19mm pistol round but shorter casing and slower velocity). The ball-shaped buckshot pellets are not aerodynamic and do not receive the same rifling (think of applying the spin of a thrown football) as a traditional bullet and lose muzzle velocity even faster over distance. Between this and the spread of shotgun pellets, a typical effective range for shotguns firing 00 is considered to be within 50 yards. As with the other firearms and ammunition tested, this ammunition is not particularly well suited for penetrating hard barriers. 

Lastly, the issue with this test that can be seen as problematic for some is with regard to the distance at which it was conducted. NIJ armor testing is conducted at 5 meters (16 feet). It should be noted that NIJ testing for the commercial market is not mandatory. Conducting this testing at this distance would have given us a better frame of reference to other bulletproof armor classification ratings. The distance in the video appears to be more than double the distance the NIJ uses for testing. Even within a distance of 30-50ft, a projectile’s velocity can decrease by several percent compared to its velocity leaving the barrel. It may be possible the shooter for the test stayed this far back for safety reasons, as these rounds can fragment or ricochet. 

The other issue with the distance the test was conducted is how it relates to real-world data and statistics on firearm-related incidents. According to the FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed & Assaulted (LEOKA) report studying 237 incidents from 2015 to 2019, 65% of all shootouts occurred within 20 feet. 44% of all incidents were within 5 feet. Only 12% of all incidents occurred over 50 feet. While Tesla is under no obligation to more closely recreate standardized testing procedures that armor manufacturers abide by to advertise their products as bulletproof up to a certain standard, it may have been more appropriate to do so given the claim and advertising of the truck being “bulletproof.”


The Cybertruck is an incredibly unique and capable vehicle. Nothing else looks quite like it, and nothing else is quite built like it. I find much of it’s bizarre feature set and feature set to be rather cool. The entire idea of building the car out of a strong stainless-steel body that is incredibly resistant to impacts and dents and can withstand a lot of offroad abuse is something to be appreciated. It should have been advertised as that. 

To make the claim that the Cybertruck is bulletproof with the evidence provided is questionable. There are still a number of more commonly available and used ammunition types and calibers that were not tested. The distance itself is further away than most typical firearms self-defense engagements. The firearms selected either hindered the bullet’s performance or did not demonstrate particularly well-suited ammunition to demonstrate true armored capability against more common threats. It would appear weaker firearm–ammunition combinations were used for the marketing purpose of calling the vehicle “bulletproof” without much accurate representation of what that truly means. Indeed, this vehicle’s stainless steel “exoskeleton” is very strong. It is stronger than most average vehicles. Does that mean, based on the evidence provided in this test, I am entirely convinced I would trust my life behind this claim? Unfortunately, that is not the case. Is the HFS exoskeleton truly armored enough to make a difference? It’s hard to tell from what we’ve seen so far. 

The Cybertruck is an exciting vehicle, and the idea of an exoskeleton, load-bearing exterior is an incredible engineering feat as well as a unique aspect in the automotive world. Tesla has come under scrutiny in the past for sometimes overexaggerating its claims. It is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice for allegedly exaggerating its range figures. The mere fact that the exterior is capable of stopping some projectiles from the factory is remarkable. But hubris can be a very bad thing that can get you into trouble. Stay safe out there.

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2 responses to “Bulletproof Cybertruck? A “Bullet Test” Ballistics Analysis”

  1. Duke Woolworth Avatar
    Duke Woolworth

    There are more chances of the truck becoming submerged from driver or GPS error than being shot at. Water pressure keeps the doors closed. With bullet proof/resistant glass in the doors, how do passengers escape?

    1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      You can check out any time you like… BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE.
      Truck probably has a secret menu mode that says just that as you drown…