Hyundai Motors and General Motors have confirmed they are pushing ahead with the development of flying cars, with a view to the commercialisation of air taxi services as soon as 2025.
The companies separately confirmed their plans at the Reuters Events ‘Car of the Future’ conference on Monday, an event that brings together automotive leaders to discuss the transition to a fully electric and zero fatalities autonomous future.
Speaking at the event was José Muñoz – Hyundai’s Global Chief Operating Officer and President and CEO of Hyundai Motor North America – who, according to a follow-up piece by Reuters, expressed optimism that the South Korean automaker could get an air taxi service up and running as soon as 2025.
According to Muñoz, Hyundai is ahead of its previously stated timetable for rolling out air-mobility vehicles, which had predicted the roll-out of urban air taxis at major US airports by 2028. Muñoz told Reuters on Monday, however, that this could happen before 2025.
“We see this market as a significant growth opportunity,” Munoz said, adding he was “very confident” of the technology’s development.
Hyundai is currently one of a number of aircraft makers and auto manufacturers developing electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) craft. The company’s S-A1 model is designed for a cruising speed of up to 290 km/h (180 miles/h) at a cruising altitude of around 1,000 to 2,000 feet above ground and be able to fly trips with four passengers of up to 100-kilometres.
In early 2020, Hyundai became the first company to partner with ridesharing platform Uber for its Uber Elevate initiative, which is seeking to develop Uber Air Taxis for future aerial ridesharing.
“Our vision of Urban Air Mobility will transform the concept of urban transportation,” said Jaiwon Shin, executive vice president and head of Hyundai’s Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Division, speaking in January 2020.
“We expect UAM to vitalise urban communities and provide more quality time to people. We are confident that Uber Elevate is the right partner to make this innovative product readily available to as many customers as possible.”
Hyundai was also one of several companies to partner with Urban Air Port in February to launch the world’s first fully-operational hub for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, simply named Air One.
“Cars need roads. Trains need rails. Planes need airports. eVTOLs will need Urban Air Ports,” said Ricky Sandhu, Founder and Executive Chairman of Urban Air Port.
“Over a hundred years ago, the world’s first commercial flight took off, creating the modern connected world. Urban Air Port will improve connectivity across our cities, boost productivity and help the UK to take the lead in a whole new clean global economy.”
General Motors, meanwhile, is less optimistic, with the company’s vice president of global innovation, Pamela Fletcher, expecting the time to commercialisation will be closer to the end of the decade.
“I think that there’s a long pathway here,” said Fletcher. “2030 is probably a real commercial inflection point.
“It’s a very nascent space. There’s a lot of work to be done on the regulatory side, as well as the actual technology side.”
An anonymous source, speaking to Reuters in 2020, revealed that GM was reportedly exploring a market entry into the aerial taxi market – part of a larger push by the company into related transportation markets.
The anonymous leak came days after GM chief executive Mary Barra hinted in a speech at an RBC Capital Markets conference that GM was exploring alternate uses for its new Ultium battery system.
“We believe strongly in our EV future and not just for vehicles, the strength and flexibility of our Ultium battery systems open doors for many use cases, including aerial mobility, which represents a natural next step in a zero emissions vision,” Barra said.
Whether it is directly related, GM unveiled in January of this year a single seater eVTOL vehicle, part of the company’s Cadillac Halo Portfolio. Unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the eVTOL vehicle was one of two concepts GM unveiled, alongside an egg-shaped autonomous vehicle.
However, it may be that General Motors is the unrealistic one, in assuming the regulatory and technological hurdles won’t allow commercialisation of eVTOL air-taxis until the end of this decade.
A February report from British management consulting firm L.E.K. Consulting concluded that the first commercial passenger flight of an eVTOL aircraft could become a reality in the next three to five years, driven by competition between manufacturers, and backed by billions in investment.
“Los Angeles, Paris, China, Singapore, and Seoul are some of the most likely jurisdictions for the first launch of commercial passenger services, based on our analysis of the industry, but we are seeing interest in AAMs across the board, including in Australia,” said co-author Natasha Santha.