Flying cars? You better believe it

Most people in the business of selling vehicles think flying cars are pure science fiction, but the first sales of airborne autos is scheduled to happen in 2020.

KZN s12 Flying cars Joby

Aston Martin, Daimler, Geely, Hyundai, Toyota and VW have all invested heavily in start-up companies developing flying cars, alongside aviation giants like Airbus, Bell, Boeing, and even Nasa.

Prices for the flying cars currently range from one to several million Rands and few countries have aviation regulations that are ready for these giant drones, but the pace at which the flying car industry is developing means they can land at local premium car dealerships before 2030.

Volkswagen in 2019 shelved plans for a premium flying car, but the group said all its brands are still very much committed to providing airborne personal transport. Philipp von Hagen, head of portfolio management for Porsche and the Piech family who control the VW Group, said giant drones will be a regular means of transport as soon as 2025. “Drones are agile and quiet due to their electrical propulsion and both more affordable as well as more environmentally friendly than today’s helicopter,” said Philipp.

Prices for flight hail can cost the same as a ride hail. Uber Elevate boss Eric Allison said because flying in a straight line over gridlock traffic is up to 25 times faster than sitting in it, Uber Elevate’s pilots can transport more passengers and spread operating costs between them. Uber Elevate, whose partners include Hyundai, Boeing, Aurora Flight Sciences, Bell and Nasa, aims to make cheap flight hailing a reality by 2023, starting in Dallas, Dubai, Los Angeles and Melbourne.

Among the dozen companies working on flying cars, Dealerfloor found seven that are ready to lift off.

Toyota has invested US$394 million (over R6,7 billion) in Joby Aviation, a start-up company in California that builds “flying taxis” like this all-electric giant drone.

Toyota and Joby

Toyota has invested over R6,7 billion in Joby Aviations, a California-based aerospace company that has been refining an all-electric, tilt-rotor, vertical take-off and land (eVtol) craft since 2009. Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda said air transportation has been a long-term goal for Toyota and flying taxis can revolutionise future transportation and life.

Hyundai and Uber Elevate

Hyundai announced its all-electric VTOL aircraft at the 2020 California Electronics Show (CES), and said it will become Uber Elevate’s first automotive partner. Hyundai’s Chief Innovation Officer Youngcho Chi, said the plan is to certify and mass-produce the vtol aircraft by the late 2020s. The current specs have the Hyundai S-A1 concept carrying four passengers plus luggage flying at 290km/h, with a short-hop range of 96 km. Jaiwon Shin, who joined Hyundai new Urban Air Mobility Division from Nasa, said urban air mobility could revolutionise transport and change lifestyles as much as smartphones have.

Daimler, Geely and Volocopter

Daimler Group and Geely Holdings both invested in Stuttgart-based Volocopter, which has already demonstrated its autonomous air taxi to Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority in 2017 and at CES 2018. Volocopter’s giant drone has 18 rotors and flies at 100 km/h for 30 mins, using nine lithium-ion batteries and the craft has seen over 1,000 test flights. The company also worked with John Deere to demonstrate how its big drone can deliver loads like blocks of salt lick to inaccessible areas on a farm.

Google-backed projects

Wisk is Volocopter’s strongest competition. Wisk is a JV that was created in February 2020 between Kitty Hawk and Boeing. Kitty Hawk has tested its Cora, a two-seater drone, in New Zealand since 2018. The all-electric Cora flies itself and can reach speeds of 180 km/h with a range of about 100 km with a flight time of 19 minutes and a 10 minute reserve. Kitty Hawk enjoys the personal involvement of Google co-founder Larry Page.

Opener Inc is another company backed by Page. Where Kitty Hawk’s Cora aims to be a flying taxi for the masses, Opener’s single-seat BlackFly is all about personal fun in the sky. Extensively tested in Canada, the Blackfly can shoots through the air at 115 km/h, hover and change direction like a drone, using eight rotors fixed to two titling wings front and back. Opener aims to start selling the Blackfly in 2020 for as much as a premium SUV.

Moog and Surefly

The Workhorse Surefly solved the main problem of all electric people-carrying drones — their short ranges — by using a 600 cc Honda petrol engine to drive eight propellers. A backup battery system provides 10 minutes flying time should the engine fail. The Surefly can fly at 115 km/h and carry 180 kg to 290 kg. Workhorse Inc, a company that started out building electric delivery vans, sold the Surefly to space and defence company Moog for $5 million in December 2019.

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