Chinese electric vehicle (EV) maker Xpeng Inc and its CEO, He Xiaopeng have invested in air taxi startup Xpeng Heitech as the world moves forward with mobility options.
Air taxis are vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft that use electric motors instead of jet engines and have wings and rotors instead of propellers. As they take off vertically like helicopters they do not need long runways.
Xpeng Heitech is developing electric and vertical takeoff air taxis with a focus on lower altitudes of 5 to 25 meters.
There are no financial details available about the investment but Xpeng said it will not impact its core business.
With many companies interested in the nascent industry touted to change urban transport, commercial services are expected to start within the next five years.
There are many hurdles facing the industry apart from easing of the traffic woes of the world.
The taxis will need many clearances, including safety clearance for passenger ferrying, infrastructure, air traffic management system, including height clearance, and flight plan data.
Obtaining regulatory approval will be a “Herculean hurdle”, said Joe Praveen Vijayakumar, a transport specialist at Frost & Sullivan, a consultancy. “Regulators are expected to be circumspect initially, as with any new technology,” he added.
Creating a multilayered highway in the air for these taxis to traverse will involve technology, AI and 5G. There are many who are skeptical of such a Herculean task coming to fruition.
“About 120 years ago it would have been be hard for people in New York to imagine that horses would be replaced by cars — today we take cars entirely for granted,” Ben Marcus, chairman of AirMap, a US-based start-up that is building an unmanned traffic management system says. “I think the same will happen in the airspace.”
Prototype air taxis fly at speeds ranging from 60mph to 200mph at relatively low altitudes of less than 5,000 feet.
By 2040, the “urban air mobility” market will be worth $1.5tn with 430,000 air taxis globally, according to research respectively by investment bank Morgan Stanley, and by Frost & Sullivan.
The nascent VTOLs industry is attracting many new players, including Toyota Motor, Geely, Daimler AG and General Motors.
Uber, the ride-sharing company, plans to launch its ride-sharing air taxi service in the US and Australia in the next few years, said Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, Uber’s air taxi unit. Germany’s Lilium too has plans to launch an intercity air taxi by 2025 and says prices will be comparable to peak rail fares, according to the company’s, chief operating officer, Remo Gerber.