Tokyo Toyota boss Akio Toyoda has been declaring for years that he wants to turn the car maker into a mobility company. Toyota is already developing self-driving cars, motor yachts and robots for this purpose. Japan’s largest and most profitable car company is now adding flight taxis to its portfolio – by investing in the US start-up Joby Aviation.
Joby is known for the development of electric light aircraft. CEO Toyoda sees himself shortly before the fulfillment of a dream. “Air traffic has long been a target of Toyota,” he said. “And while we will continue to work in the auto industry, with this agreement we are looking up at the sky.”
The investment sum shows that Toyoda is serious. Before 2018, Toyota Joby helped find investors – as a kind of test. Now Toyoda is obviously convinced: In Joby’s second major capital increase, the Japanese now entrust the start-up with $ 394 million, around € 350 million. This will make Toyota the leading investor in this round, which will give the young company a total of $ 590 million.
In addition to the money, Toyota will contribute its experience in production, quality control and cost control. The group also sends its Vice President Shigeki Tomoyama to Joby’s board. There he should help the young company to develop an electric high-flyer ready for the market
The Americans use photos to show how they imagine the future of mobility: the cabin resembles that of a helicopter and offers space for a pilot and four passengers. However, there is no large rotor for propulsion and propulsion, but six smaller propellers. Four are attached to short wings, two form a kind of tail unit at the rear.
With this design, Joby tries to combine the advantages of a helicopter with those of an airplane. At take-off, the rotors point upwards so that Joby’s aircraft can take off vertically. Then they lean forward to buzz like a plane, saving energy. The top speed is said to be 320 kilometers per hour, the range of a battery charge is 240 kilometers.
Crowds in near-airspace
With Toyota’s commitment, the competition for flying in close-to-earth airspace is picking up speed. Many start-ups are already developing new VTOLs, as the new aircraft type is called in technical jargon. The abbreviation stands for “Vertical Take-Off and Landing”.
The pioneer is the American travel agent Uber, who wants to start the first flight taxi services in 2023. Joby had announced a partnership with Uber, in which Toyota is involved, a few weeks ago. Helicopter manufacturer Bell is already cooperating with Uber. Uber’s newest partner, however, is Toyota’s old rival: On January 6, Hyundai presented its VTOL at the electronics fair CES, which the Koreans want to complete with Uber.
In Germany, start-ups like Lilium and Volocopter are active in this field. And also in Toyota’s homeland the aviation desire is stirring. The Japanese government wants to build the country into a drone force. Toyota is also indirectly involved in the national mission.
Toyota engineers first developed the idea of an autonomous air taxi as a creativity project, which they now want to bring to market under the name SkyDrive. However, Joby has a technological lead, which explains Toyota’s commitment.
The rush does not mean that urban air traffic will ultimately start off commercially. But the VTOLs are coming, Jay Merkle, head of the agency responsible for the United States Aviation Administration (FAA), suggested this week. In at least six cases, the procedures for type approval are already well underway, the expert revealed this week. Approval is the first step for operational operations. Merkle’s conclusion: “This is more than pure hype.”
More: Toyota wants to enable people to live with robots in a smart city. This is a lifelong dream for the company boss Akio Toyoda.