Uber to partner with Hyundai on flying taxis

Hyundai says it does not expect commercialisation of air mobility services to take place until 2028

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 06: A model of the S-A1 urban air taxi concept is displayed during a Hyundai press event for CES 2020 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on January 6, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world's largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs January 7-10 and features about 4,500 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to more than 170,000 attendees.   Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP
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US ride-hailing company Uber Technologies and South Korean car maker Hyundai Motor have teamed up to develop electric air taxis, joining the global race to make small, self-flying cars to ease urban congestion.

Global players like Germany's Daimler, China's Geely Automobile and Japan's Toyota have all unveiled investments in start-ups that aim to deploy electric flying cars capable of vertical take-off and landing. But there are big technological and regulatory hurdles to the plans.

Uber and Hyundai, for instance, gave widely different timelines for commercialisation, underlining these challenges.

"We've been making steady progress towards a goal of launching Uber Air by 2023," Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, said at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Euisun Chung, executive vice-chairman of Hyundai, expects commercialisation of urban air mobility service in 2028, saying it takes time for laws and systems to be in place.

Hyundai is the first carmaker to join Uber's air taxi project, which also counts Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences among its partner firms.

Hyundai will produce and deploy the vehicles while Uber will provide aerial ride-share services.

Uber, which has partnered with eight companies on its air taxi project, however, acknowledged it would be "unrealistic" to expect all its partners to go to market at the same time.

"Our plans for our limited commercial operations in 2023 will likely involve other partners," Sarah Abboud, communications manager at Uber, said.

Hyundai will unveil a concept electric aircraft developed with Uber at CES, with the self-flying electric car designed to carry up to four passengers with a pilot and fly on trips of up to 60 miles (100km).

"The overall cost to produce and operate UAM (urban air mobility) vehicles should be really low enough for everyone to enjoy the freedom to fly," Shin Jai-won, head of Hyundai Motor's urban air mobility division.

Air taxis come in several shapes and sizes — with electric motors that replace jet engines, or aircraft with rotating wings or rotors in place of propellers.

The urban flight market will exceed the current number of commercial aeroplanes flying around the world — about 25,000, Hyundai's Shin, a former Nasa engineer hired by the car maker said last year.

Last year, Hyundai pledged to invest 1.8 trillion won (Dh5.68bn) in what it called "urban air mobility" by 2025.

Boeing has said it is working with Volkswagen's sports car brand, Porsche, to develop a concept electric flying vehicle that can transport people in urban areas.