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Japan flying car startup SkyDrive aims for 2025 commercialization

  • September 27, 2022
  • , Nikkei Asia , 11:31 a.m.
  • English Press

By SHOICHIRO TAGUCHI, Nikkei staff writer

 

OSAKA — Japanese flying car startup SkyDrive is accelerating the development of its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicle with the 9.6 billion yen ($67 million) it recently raised, setting its sights on a first commercial flight by the 2025 World Expo in Osaka.

 

Tokyo-based SkyDrive announced on Monday that it had raised the money from 13 Japanese companies, including Suzuki Motor, Kintetsu Group Holdings and MUFG Bank. Apart from research and development of the eVTOL aircraft and its flight operation system, the funds will also go toward the hiring of engineers.

 

The latest round comes on top of the 3.9 billion yen SkyDrive raised in August 2020 from the Development Bank of Japan and trading house Itochu, among others.

 

With investments from insurance companies, electric power companies and auto parts manufacturers, SkyDrive said it would be able to deepen cooperation in areas such as the development of insurance products, the building of charging facilities, and the exchange of technical knowhow.

 

“It will be great to see that the more companies we form partnerships with, the more we can accomplish,” SkyDrive’s CEO Tomohiro Fukuzawa said on Monday.

 

SkyDrive’s eVTOL aircraft is under review for certification by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. The company made its first successful manned flight in 2019, becoming Japan’s most developed flying car startup.

 

It now envisions flying cars zipping over Yumeshima, an artificial island where the world fair will be held in 2025, taking participants on pleasure flights. This new mode of transportation will not only help to ease traffic jams, but can also be used for medical emergencies and disaster relief.

 

SkyDrive is now working with authorities to establish review criteria and certification plans for the nascent industry. “We are proceeding with the same strict standards as the Federal Aviation Administration in the U.S. and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency,” Fukuzawa said.

 

If it is successful at the World Expo in Osaka, SkyDrive will expand overseas, hoping to commercialize the vehicle in India by March 2027. The company sees demand in India given as its cities are notorious for traffic snarl-ups.

 

To this end, the startup has formed a partnership with Suzuki Motor, whose main market is India. The companies will consider collaborating in research and building mass-production capabilities. Fukuzawa said he was also thinking of establishing a business base that will conduct market research and forecasts, among other tasks.

 

“There is also a possibility of producing aircraft in India in the future,” he said.

 

Although Fukuzawa did not mention specific countries, he said that the company was conducting preliminary research on expansion into Southeast Asia.

 

Although most countries, including India, do not have flying car regulations yet, the company’s eVTOL will be built to meet standards in line with those in the U.S. and Europe.

 

SkyDrive, however, is already facing competition. Companies ahead of the regulatory and certification curve expect to commercialize their flying cars in 2024 or 2025. Germany’s Volocopter is planning to build four to six ports in Singapore by 2030 and is likely to be developing a route for tourists that will connect Malaysia and Indonesia.

 

Japan’s big automakers also have similar ideas. Honda Motor is aiming to commercialize a flying car in the 2030s, while Toyota Motor has invested $394 million in U.S.-based Joby Aviation.

 

Fukuzawa admitted that global competition is intensifying, but said its compact, easy-to-maneuver aircraft gives it an advantage. “Just like with cars, it is natural that there are multiple players in a single country in the flying car market,” he added.

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