When Hyundai unveiled a full-size mock-up of a flying car, the SA-1, last January, some observers questioned whether the Korean carmaker was serious about entering the anticipated market for flying cars. Now, however, a top Hyundai official says it’s not only planning to move ahead but expects to have a complete line-up of airborne products aimed at services like Uber Elevate.
The company is developing a series of models that could carry as many as six across big cities like Seoul, Beijing or Los Angeles, as well as on inter-urban jaunts, Jaiwon Shin, head of Hyundai’s air mobility unit, told the Bloomberg news service, with production set to begin in 2028.
“People who are always stuck in traffic on the road will realize how convenient it is to move via aerial vehicles,” Shin said in an interview. “That is when we will see demand explode.”
The idea of building flying cars has been around for at least a century, automotive pioneer Henry Ford at one point funding the development of a vehicle dubbed “the flying flivver,” a tribute to the Model T that many referred to as the flivver. The project was canceled after the crash of a prototype that killed the test pilot, a close friend of Ford’s.
Since then, a variety of flying car projects have struggled to get off the ground but there are signs that the concept is finally ready to take off, much of the motivation coming from the Uber Elevate project that the familiar ride-sharing giant is working up. Uber hopes to be operating flying cab services in a number of cities, including Dallas and Dubai, within the next several years.
A number of aerospace firms, including Boeing and Airbus, have announced development programs aimed at providing the flying hardware, as have a variety of startups. And several traditional automakers now also are looking at ways to enter the field.
That includes Toyota which announced a team up with Joby Aviation early this year, with plans to invest $394 million in the project. A prototype, the SD-03, staged a very brief test flight on Aug. 25, and the partners announced plans to get into production by as early as 2023.
Aerospace and manufacturing experts say companies like Hyundai and Toyota could bring significant advantages to the emerging field, starting with their vast network of suppliers, as well as their ability to pump out product at a rapid pace. Mass production is not a skill that traditional airplane manufacturers can boast about.
Both the Hyundai SA-1 and Toyota SD-03, as well as other flying car concepts, look a lot like a classic drone on steroids, rather than a conventional aircraft. This approach provides not only the ability to take off and land vertically but builds in a level of redundancy to improve safety. The crafts will use electric drive technology, eliminating emissions but also reducing range.
Pilots, meanwhile, will likely be required initially, though Uber Technologies, the unit developing the Uber Elevate concept, hopes its service will be able to go fully autonomous by 2035, reducing costs and increasing passenger capacity.
With no current service to compare with, it’s difficult to know what sort of business such services will generate, though Morgan Stanley analysts have estimated the flying car market could be worth anywhere from $615 billion up to $2.9 trillion worldwide by 2040. That would include both passenger and cargo services.
Hyundai’s Shin said the company is looking to provide both types of craft and in various capacities.
Uber Elevate’s debut has been pushed back from its early, optimistic target of launching service in a couple markets this year, but it is widely expected that the ride-sharing giant, or a competitor, will be off the ground by around 2023.
Hyundai will be late to the part, however, its first craft not expected to take off until 2028.But Shin said that isn’t going to be a problem. “We don’t want to be the first to the market. We want to be the first with the right product.”