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CES 2020

Hyundai to make 4-passenger flying taxis for Uber

Toyota, Volvo and Daimler back similar startups, drawing investors to sector

Hyundai Motor's Jaiwon Shin reveals a model of the S-A1 urban air taxi at the CES tech show in Las Vegas on Jan. 6.    © AP

LAS VEGAS, U.S. -- South Korea's largest carmaker Hyundai Motor is teaming up with U.S. ride-hailing company Uber Technologies to manufacture "flying cars" that will ease traffic congestion.

Hyundai unveiled a scale model of the vehicle at the world's biggest technology event CES on Monday. "Our mission has always been progress for humanity," said Chief Innovation Officer Youngcho Chi.

The electric vertical takeoff and landing craft, or eVTOL, is based on a design by Uber that can transport as many as four passengers and promises a quiet ride. 

"We want to collaborate and build strategic partnerships with other key players," said Jaiwon Shin, Hyundai's head of urban air mobility.

Such vehicles were hot items at CES. With 70% of the world's population forecast to be living in cities by 2050, "CES2020 will illustrate how innovation is starting to address the next mile," said Steve Koenig, vice president of research at Consumer Technology Association, the event organizer.

"We believe Hyundai has the potential to build air taxis at rates not possible in the current aerospace industry," said Eric Allison, head of air mobility project Uber Elevate. Uber already works with companies such as Boeing and helicopter maker Bell, but Hyundai is the first major automotive manufacturer it has announced a partnership with.

Uber plans to launch shared air transportation by 2023, but Allison said: "We are not an aircraft manufacturing company, and we have no intention of becoming one."

Car manufacturers have been forming partnerships in aerial mobility. Volvo owner Geely and Daimler are behind German aerial startup Volocopter, which launched the first manned flight in Singapore in October.

"This flight kicks off Volocopter’s efforts to bring commercial air taxi services to Singapore," the company announced last year. Toyota Motor, among other Japanese companies such as Panasonic and NEC, is also backing a flying car startup, SkyDrive. Porsche and Boeing announced a partnership last year to "study the future of premium urban air mobility vehicles."

A report by financial data company PitchBook predicted that electric air taxi startups would raise a record level of venture capital this year.

However, technology and regulations remain a challenge. "While most major corporates and startups in the space have set targets for deployment in the mid-2020s, we believe this is an aggressive estimate," the report added. 

Airbus UTM, a division of Airbus's Urban Air Mobility Unit, published results from a preliminary study early last year which showed that 44% of 1,540 people surveyed in Los Angeles, Mexico City, Switzerland and New Zealand indicated their support for air mobility vehicles. But they were concerned about safety of individuals on the ground and noise pollution.   

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