In the 1940s, Henry Ford regaled us with this little fantastical gem: “Mark my words – a combination aeroplane and motor car is coming…You may smile. But it will come.” Eight decades later, and Ford is vindicated. Toyota just made a nearly $400-million bet on flying taxis as tech competition in this segment gets fierce.
The Japanese carmaker said it is investing $394 million in California-based Joby Aviation, an aerospace company that hopes to be among the first to develop and commercialize all-electric flying taxis.
It’s the second time Toyota has seen fit to pump money into this idea.
In early 2018, the Japanese auto giant teamed up with Jetblue, investing $100 million in Joby during the company’s previous funding round. With Toyota’s latest investment, Joby just closed its latest round of financing with $590 million in venture capital funding.
And the year before that, Toyota backed Recogni Inc., a Silicon Valley maker of autonomous vehicle systems, and May Mobility, a Michigan-based operator of self-driving shuttle buses.
Joby has been working on its e-VTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) vehicle for over a decade. Now, finally, we get to see some of the details.
The eVTOL is a piloted, five-seat aircraft with a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour and a range of over 150 miles on a single charge.
According to Joby, the aircraft is a hundred times quieter than conventional aircraft during takeoff and landing and "near-silent" when flying overhead.
Like we said, though, the competition is getting fierce, and Toyota isn’t the only one with its eye in the sky.
In 2018, the German government signed a letter of intent that effectively approved testing of the flying taxi in and around the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, which is, incidentally, the hometown of Audi--one of Toyota’s biggest emerging competitors in this unique segment.
Audi has teamed up with airplane maker Airbus and design house Italdesign to unveil PopUp Next, a reworked version of the two-seat autonomous vehicle concept.
Not to be left out, Hyundai and Uber are working on a fleet of electric, autonomous, VTOL aerial taxis. Melbourne, Dallas and Los Angeles will be the first cities to offer Uber Air flights, with the goal of beginning demonstrator flights in 2020 and commercial operations in 2023.
Volocopter, a German startup backed by Intel and Daimler, has built a drone-like electric helicopter to ferry travelers across cities. And it’s already completed test flights and seeks to offer first commercial trips in the next three to five years.
In November, Geely, the Chinese owner of Volvo and Lotus, acquired Terrafugia, a U.S. flying-car developer that plans to launch its VTOL by 2023. Rolls-Royce also has its own eVTOL concept.
Industry watchers and proponents see flying cars becoming part of the global transportation network and generating as much as $5 billion a year in service revenue.
However, this type of transportation is in its infancy and the companies involved still faces a slew of technical, regulatory and infrastructure challenges in getting their respective air taxi services off the ground.
By Anes Alic for SafeHaven.com
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