A number of flying car concepts have surfaced over the years, though these have typically been small, light aircraft that can double as cars. This means they still require a runway for takeoffs and landings, making them poorly suited for congestion-filled cities, where if such a thing existed, a flying car could provide the most utility.
That’s not the case for the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle being developed by Xpeng AeroHT, a sister company to electric-vehicle startup Xpeng. Xpeng AeroHT in 2021 revealed a concept, and in October the company claimed to have successfully completed the maiden flight of a prototype.
Xpeng AeroHT’s prototype is powered by batteries and resembles a sleek sedan with giant propellers mounted to the roof. The propellers are meant to fold away when the vehicle needs to travel on the ground, and have been designed in such a way that the vehicle can still safely land should one of the propellers stop working, the company said.
The prototype is claimed to weigh about 4,270 lb, and for the maiden flight it reached an altitude of 33 feet and exhibited stable maneuverability, the company said. In flight mode, the driver uses a gear lever to control the vehicle.
Xpeng AeroHT didn’t mention a range, but the company said it envisaged the vehicle being used for short, low-altitude flight to escape heavy traffic or to quickly cross obstacles, such as a river. For longer flights, Xpeng AeroHT is developing a separate model called the X2, which is a passenger drone designed to operate as a flying taxi.
The company said a commercial launch for the planned VTOL vehicle would be subject to various laws and regulations but has previously hinted at it being ready to start sales in 2024 at price of 1 million renminbi (approximately $137,350).
Xpeng AeroHT is not the only company in the race to capitalize on the potentially lucrative business of urban air mobility. Hyundai Motor Group in 2021 established the company Supernal which is developing a drone-style flying taxi similar to Xpeng AeroHT’s X2.
Supernal is looking to start its first commercial flights in 2028, including in the U.S., and has said the segment could be worth $1.5 trillion—yes, with a t—within the next two decades. Others in the space include Volocopter, which is backed by Geely and Mercedes-Benz, as well as Joby Aviation, which is backed by Toyota.
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