In a forward-thinking business move, Toyota has invested hundreds of millions in a company that manufactures flying electric taxis. Is that really a good idea?
Joby Aviation is an aerospace company that aims to develop and commercialise an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to create fast, quiet and affordable air transportation services. While the idea of cheap and reliable urban air travel has been promised to us at the outset of every decade since 1950, Joby looks like it might actually be able to deliver on that promise – especially with a hefty cash infusion from Toyota.
The automobile manufacturer has just invested $394 million in Joby’s Series C financing.
“Air transportation has been a long-term goal for Toyota, and while we continue our work in the automobile business, this agreement sets our sights to the sky,” said Toyota Motor Corporation president and CEO Akio Toyoda.
“As we take up the challenge of air transportation together with Joby, an innovator in the emerging eVTOL space, we tap the potential to revolutionise future transportation and life.”
Toyota anticipates that the eVTOLs will “revolutionise mobility” in urban areas by helping reduce congestion while alleviating some of the environmental burdens created by other vehicles. The eVTOLs are also being touted as a solution to lack of transportation in underpopulated areas, though it’s not exactly clear who would be shelling out for them.
Uber has already implemented a helicopter taxi service which operates at airports (in fact, they’re now planning on using some of Joby’s aircraft) but there’s a reason there aren't many of the same services in cities.
It’s difficult to get regulatory approval to take customers careening between skyscrapers and office buildings in a helicopter. And creating another small private transport system also doesn’t solve the problem posed by growing urban populations, which require large-scale public transport rather than helicopter taxis. The infrastructure required to make cities suitable for their use is also prohibitively expensive, and when faced with the option of subsidising a heliport that serves a handful of wealthy customers or a train station, most city planners – and politicians – will choose the latter.
Riding in Joby’s eVTOLs will no doubt be extremely enjoyable, but it won’t be accessible. So while the vehicle looks slick – and Toyota’s money will probably be well spent – Joby should probably call it what it is: an electric helicopter.
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