Automakers are increasingly interested in extending their reach from highways to airways. General Motors became the latest carmaker to unveil a path toward a business based on urban air mobility, showcasing its
Cadillac-branded electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing, or e-VTOL, aircraft at last week's CES.
CEO Mary Barra hinted at the company's interest in the urban-air-mobility space back in September, so the single-passenger concept did not necessarily come as a surprise. Regardless of whether such an aircraft ever becomes airborne, the concept underscores the potential for GM to tap its electric-battery and autonomous-systems expertise across transportation modes.
GM is not the only automaker thinking about the interplay between automotive and aerospace. There was a related announcement last week that flew under the radar — no pun intended — that showcases the potential synergies between the two industries.
Archer, an e-VTOL company based in Palo Alto, Calif., partnered with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to access the automaker's supply chain and experience with composite materials. FCA has collaborated with the startup on cockpit design, and Archer says FCA's general design and manufacturing experience can significantly decrease the cost of production, which they aim to begin in 2023.
"Electrification within the transportation sector, whether on roads or in the air, is the future, and with any new rapidly developing technology, scale is important," said Doug Ostermann, vice president and head of global business development at FCA.
Whether urban air mobility represents a transformative transportation mode or a waste of investment dollars on glorified helicopters remains open for debate. But a research note published by Morgan Stanley last week said commercialization may occur "faster than we originally anticipated."
Noting the Cadillac concept and the naming of former Airbus head Tom Enders to the board of directors at flying-taxi startup Lilium, the investment firm said recent developments were "clearly becoming a profound development."
Hyundai, Daimler, Toyota, GM and Geely have now invested in or explored aerial mobility vehicles. Morgan Stanley notes there's perhaps one company conspicuously absent from that list: Tesla.
Given the way Elon Musk spurred innovation in the auto industry while simultaneously leading aerospace growth at SpaceX, might Tesla be a logical candidate to join the ranks of aspiring aviators? Morgan Stanley thinks so.
Emphasizing that the firm possessed no knowledge of such a project, the research note nonetheless said, "We would not bet against Tesla unveiling a concept in the UAM arena in the near future. In fact, we see it as a natural extension for sustainable electric transport and autonomy."
— Pete Bigelow