Start-up maker of $777,000 flying motorbike gears up for IPO in Japan

The bike has so far figured largely as a curio at public events, but ALI president Daisuke Katano says there’s strong interest in it from Middle East nations

ALI Technologies chief executive Daisuke Katano with the XTurismo flying bike at the Fuji Speedway track in Oyama, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Reuters

A former Merrill Lynch derivatives trader with a passion for Star Wars is preparing to take his flying motorbike start-up public in Japan.

Tokyo-based ALI Technologies was founded by Shuhei Komatsu as a drone maker in 2016 before moving on to other ventures, starting sales of its Xturismo bike in October. The $777,000 single-person transporter has a maximum speed of 80 kilometres an hour and travel up to 40 minutes on one charge, according to the company. It is primarily powered by a combustion engine.

The bike has so far largely figured as a curio at public events such as a recent baseball game, but ALI president Daisuke Katano said there is strong interest in it from Middle East nations.

“The need for these bikes will be higher in places with desert or other difficult terrain,” Mr Katano said in an interview. “The vehicle will enable people to travel where roads are bad and inaccessible to cars, as well as across bodies of water.”

The company has selected lead underwriters for an initial public offering on Tokyo’s Mothers market for start-ups in what will be the country’s first debut of its kind.

It is presently engaged in discussions with the Tokyo Stock Exchange, Mr Katano said, declining to specify an estimated valuation or a timeline for the offering.

Flying personal vehicles have been the stuff of science fiction for decades before Star Wars, which over nine films has featured a racing scene with pods zooming along close to ground level and speeder bikes flying through forests.

The ALI bike is similarly not intended to fly far up in the air, primarily helping to traverse inhospitable terrain. It is built like an enlarged drone with a traditional motorcycle seat and steering on top.

Mr Komatsu described his aim as realising an air mobility society, where cars, bikes and other vehicles can transport people in the sky.

ALI has attracted investment from several well-known Japanese firms, including Sega Sammy Holdings, Nagoya Railroad, Nakanihon Air Service, Kyocera and Mitsubishi Electric. Football star Keisuke Honda, who played for the national team at the 2018 World Cup, is also an investor.

ALI’s drones were the first thing to attract investors, but the start-up is also developing capabilities in artificial intelligence and blockchain tech, a Nagoya Railroad spokesman said.

“There are expectations for growth, so once products like these make it to the headlines, the company’s stock could be bought up, getting a boost from retail investors,” said Tomoichiro Kubota, a senior market analyst at Matsui Securities.

Quote
There are expectations for growth, so once products like these make it to the headlines, the company’s stock could be bought up, getting a boost from retail investors
Tomoichiro Kubota, senior market analyst at Matsui Securities

“But the company is not yet at a level where people could talk about a detailed earnings outlook, which makes it hard to pin an appropriate valuation figure.”

While a successful IPO will make ALI the only listed company in Japan that specialises in next-generation air mobility, several peers are already trading on New York exchanges. These include Joby Aviation, Archer Aviation, Lilium and Vertical Aerospace.

Joby, which has a market capitalisation of more than $3 billion, is close to commercialising what the industry calls eVTOLs, or electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft. These flying taxis are battery-powered and, the companies said, are destined to fly without a pilot once regulations allow.

“Air mobility companies listed in the US have pretty sizeable market caps,” Mr Katano said. “If you consider our company to be of a similar kind, I think we’ll be able to win the understanding of investors for a decent valuation.”

ALI will aim for a unicorn valuation – $1bn or more — over the long term, Mr Katano said. But the company has yet decide on the best way to categorise its vehicle, which will depend on discussions with local regulators where the product is sold.

Updated: April 09, 2022, 2:00 PM
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