Hyundai gets into the flying car business

Spin-off company established to develop autonomous air taxis

We didn't get our flying cars by the 2019 deadline promised in the original Blade Runner film, but the idea of hopping around cities in personalised air transport could be closer now that Hyundai has set up a flying car division.

In truth, the idea of a “flying car” is a bit of a misnomer. We’re not talking about a device you can drive along the road, and then at the touch of a button convert to an aeroplane.

Hyundai wants to create an air-taxi, a cross between a small helicopter and a multi-rotor drone. To do that, the Korean manufacturing giant has set up a new US-based company called Supernal, and it wants to put a prototype in the air by 2028.

Previously, Hyundai had shown off concept renderings of an air-taxi that wore the logos of Uber – the creation of Supernal suggests Hyundai wants to go it alone with its high-flying plans. The idea is not just to build a fancy electric helicopter. Supernal wants to become a full-service mobility provider.


Think this is all far-out science fiction? Well, maybe not. Hyundai is already working with the city of Coventry in England on developing a vertiport.

Hyundai has already shown designs for its S-A1 eVTOL aircraft, which uses eight electrically driven rotors to take off and land vertically, and which has claimed performance of 290km/h and a range of 97km on one charge. When built, it will have a capacity of four passengers.

Nasa predicts urban-air mobility in the US alone could be worth up to $500 billion (€415 billion) in the near-term and states that a significant barrier to market growth is the lack of infrastructure, an issue which Urban Air Port says it was established to resolve.

The Urban Air Port is small. Ricky Sandhu of Urban Air Port claims it's some 60 per cent smaller than a normal helicopter port, never mind an airport for fixed-wing aircraft.

Hyundai is not alone in this endeavour to take taxi passengers to the skies. Toyota is known to be working on a similar project, and so too is former Fiat, McLaren, and Ferrari designer Frank Stephenson.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Stephenson said: “The eVTOL thing is so cutting edge, it’s so exciting, it’s disruptive, it’s bringing a potentially huge change to the challenges of mobility. And everyone’s like ‘yeah, that’s cool sci-fi, but is it going to work?’ Well, yes it does – it’s working already, we have them flying around in our testing areas.

“It’s about changing public perception. It’s about getting past Henry Ford’s ‘faster horse’ paradox. The younger generation will probably be more easily convinced that things like eVTOL and autonomous technology is safe. These eVTOL craft won’t be certified to fly until the authorities, the civil flight agencies, are convinced that these are 10-to-the-minus-9 reliable. That means that in one billion hours of flying, you’ll have one defect. Current commercial aircraft are only 10-to-the-minus-6 reliable, which is one incident in every million hours of flying. So you have to design in redundancy and backups. If you get into one of these things, it cannot fail.

“Like anything, it will take time, and the more it operates the more people will be convinced. But the coolness factor, the convenience factor will win out. And you don’t need big infrastructure, you don’t need roads, you just need verti-ports, which are pretty compact.”

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring