Toyota wants to get into the electric flying taxi business, and has invested $394 million into an aerospace startup called Joby Aviation.
Based in Santa Cruz, California, Joby was founded in 2009 but remained in stealth mode until receiving its first funding round, which Toyota was also a part of, in 2018.
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Since then, total investment in Joby by various companies has reached $720 million. Toyota will use its manufacturing expertise to help Joby build a fleet of VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) electric aircraft.
To coincide with the latest funding round, Joby today released the first images of its aircraft, along with some details about its capabilities. The aircraft has space for four passengers and one pilot, can fly at up to 200 mph, and has a range of over 150 miles before the batteries need charging.
As with other electric aerospace startups, Joby says a main feature of its aircraft is how quiet it is - a claimed 100 times quieter than a conventional aircraft, like a helicopter with an internal combustion engine.
Also like other firms in this space, Joby sees a future where its aircraft fly across cities, quickly and quietly while relieves traffic from the congested streets below. But, as ever, there will be difficult questions over the economies of such a business, and whether it can truly act as a mass-transit system, or exist exclusively for the use of the wealthy.
The aircraft has a claimed top speed of 200mphJoby Aviation
Toyota said the collaboration reflects the car maker's "recognition of the long-term potential of the urban air mobility market to meet the evolving needs of society".
Akio Toyoda, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, said: "Air transportation has been a long-term goal for Toyota, and while we continue our work in the automobile business, this agreement sets our sights to the sky...Through this new and exciting endeavor, we hope to deliver freedom of movement and enjoyment to customers everywhere, on land, and now, in the sky."
Toyota's $394 million was part of a $590 million Series C financing round for Joby. Toyota's involvement was described by Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt as "an unprecedented commitment of money and resources for us, and for this new industry."
The news comes just a week after Uber and Hyundai announced a partnership at the CES technology show to build a fleet of electric flying taxis. Other car manufacturers to get involved with flying taxi startups include Porsche, Bosch, Audi, and Aston Martin.