October 27, 2020

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    General Motors

    General Motors is discovering options in the aerial taxi market, including whether to construct the vehicles known colloquially as “flying cars,” as part of a push by the automaker to look for a boost in related transportation markets, two people knowledgeable with the matter said.

    CEO Mary Barra on Monday briefly made her first reference ever to the automaker’s interest in the air taxi market, saying that it fits with the development of electric vehicles (EVs) and its Ultium advanced electric battery.

    “We believe strongly in our EV future and not just for vehicles,” Barra said at an RBC conference. “The strength and flexibility of our Ultium battery system opens doors” for many uses, Barra added, “including aerial mobility.”

    Air taxis are vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft that make use of electric motors instead of jet engines. Designed to prevent the need for long runways, they have rotating wings and, in some cases, rotors instead of propellers.

    Electric air taxis are likely to fly low-level routes, relieving traffic congestion on roads. But they could add to air traffic congestion as they gain more popularity.

    GM spokesman Stuart Fowle refused to elaborate. “It’s an area we’re really excited about and looking at.”

    Corporate and private investors have poured at least $2.3 billion into over 100 aerial vehicle startups, including drones and electric air taxis, but the technology still deals with significant roadblocks to commercialization and profitability, according to investor website PitchBook.

    GM is weighing all options – whether to build, supply, or partner – as it decides whether to join such automakers as Hyundai Motor, Toyota Motor, Daimler AG, Volkswagen AG, and Geely Automobile in the still-developing market, said the sources, who asked not to be identified. GM could make an announcement in early 2021.

    “I am not surprised that GM and others are looking into this,” said investor and corporate adviser Evangelos Simoudis, managing director of Synapse Partners. He noted that companies such as Amazon.com and Walmart are pushing to use package delivery drones, but said transporting people with flying vehicles will take a lot longer to grow as a business.

    GM’s study of the aerial mobility market is part of the push by the automaker’s innovation group to find out other transportation markets for growth, one of the sources said. The group is headed by Alan Wexler, who reports to Barra and was hired in July in the recently created position of senior vice president of innovation and growth.

    Other efforts that originated in the innovation group include the formation of a defense business unit and a $214 million contract to build troop carriers for the U.S. Army based on the Chevrolet Colorado pickup, together with a new mobile app for OnStar members.

    Hyundai teamed up with Uber Technologies in January to develop electric air taxis and has talked about investing $1.5 billion in urban air mobility by 2025.

    Toyota led a $590 million investment round in air taxi startup Joby in January, while Daimler and Geely have spent in Stuttgart-based Volocopter. Volkswagen‘s Porsche brand is working with Boeing to develop a concept electric flying vehicle.

    In 2019, Tesla CEO Elon Musk called electric supersonic VTOL a “hard problem,” and last month said a more powerful battery that could allow electric airplanes was three to four years away. Musk has said “many exciting things” will be revealed during Tesla’s Battery Day on September 22.

    Separately on Tuesday, the World Economic Forum and the city of Los Angeles issued a set of principles to support the rollout of urban air mobility in U.S. cities, and a representative for the organization said it is talking with other cities to adopt the same roadmap.

    General Motors

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