Hyundai Expands On Advanced Air Mobility Plan

Hyundai’s Supernal eVTOL cabin mockup was unveiled at the recent Farnborough Airshow.
Credit: GN/AWST

COLORADO SPRINGS—South Korean automaker Hyundai has revealed new details of its broad-based advanced air mobility (AAM) development strategy after unveiling a full-scale cabin mockup of its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi concept and signing a propulsion collaboration deal with Rolls-Royce.

The company’s AAM plan is based on two vehicle families: a battery-powered eVTOL which is being developed by Supernal, Hyundai’s U.S.-based AAM company, and a larger, longer-range hydrogen-electric eSTOL (electric short takeoff and landing) regional air mobility vehicle that is being developed in Korea by a Hyundai AAM team. The urban air taxi is targeted at entry into service for 2028, while the eSTOL is being developed for the intercity market from 2030 onward.

The agreement with Rolls-Royce includes collaborating on bringing all-electric propulsion and hydrogen fuel cell technology to the AAM market and includes development of a joint fuel cell electric aircraft demonstration by 2025. Although the fuel cell is targeted initially at the regional eSTOL, a version of the technology could ultimately feature on the eVTOL family of vehicles, says Jaiwon Shin, president of Hyundai’s AAM division.

“We just opened up another dimension of AAM, so we are looking at two powertrains and two vehicles. A combination of these could produce all kinds of possibilities,” says Shin, who spoke to Aviation Week at the recent Farnborough Airshow. 

Though the propulsion focus for the eVTOL for now remains on all-electric battery power, Shin says the work with Rolls-Royce on fuel cells for the eSTOL could also open up new development avenues for the shorter-range vehicle family. “We’ll try with the regional air mobility application first, but if we succeed in developing a hydrogen fuel cell for aviation then we will look at the possibility of bringing that hydrogen fuel cell-battery combination into eVTOLs. We can do a couple of things—we can size up the aircraft or we offer longer range. So, all of a sudden you still take off and land vertically and still operate from city centers, but then you have the range to go from city to city.”

Explaining the basis for Hyundai’s multimarket AAM strategy, Shin says “we are trying to cover the concurrent development of inter and intracity vehicles because both new market areas will demand eco-friendly or eventually zero carbon aviation. Also, we don’t know how this AAM market will actually pan out. If anyone says I know the answer to that then I’d like to talk to them,” he quips.

Shin also believes the two-family approach is lower risk compared to many of the point-design market concepts being developed by many of its startup competitors. “I don’t want to make a comparative statement here, but it’s just a fact of life. Some of the startup companies in the urban air mobility area need to prove out a level of progress and focus on one particular vehicle to attract more investment. We don’t have to do that fortunately because we’re backed by Hyundai Motor Group (HMG), which has a very strong commitment that this is for the people,” he adds. 

“So, from a developer’s perspective, we’re in a very good situation compared to others because we can plan for long-term benefits and goals. We are constantly assessing changes in market conditions and making sure that we really understand what the market demands. So, to be agile and flexible, I thought we need to have this broader portfolio not only because we can do it, but I think it is the right thing to do,” Shin says.

Linking Rolls-Royce with Hyundai’s AAM vision is a key part of this process and “is almost the perfect marriage,” Shin says. “Rolls-Royce has tremendous experience and expertise in integrating and certifying powertrain systems. They bring a deep understanding and experience of core aviation skills, and we bring the core technology to make these aircraft eco-friendly.” Rolls will benefit from Hyundai’s experience in hydrogen fuel cells as well as the Korean company’s industrialization capability.

Hyundai Motor Group “is the only company that has successfully commercialized hydrogen fuel cells and so we have to have a patient and methodical approach,” Shin says. “Developing this new technology will take some time, but it surely will have to take place. Because in the end, I think hydrogen is the answer, because we cannot use batteries for long haul.” 

Hyundai’s commercial hydrogen automotive venture is founded on the XCIENT Fuel Cell vehicle. Launched in 2020, this was the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen-electric heavy-duty truck. The system incorporates two 90-kW stacks to form a 180-kW hydrogen fuel cell and includes seven tanks that provide storage capacity for up to 31 kg of hydrogen. The truck also has an additional set of three 72-kWh batteries, which after a full charge provides a maximum driving range of 400 km. A scaled version of the same system has also been introduced in the NEXO Fuel Cell sport utility vehicle.

Meanwhile, Supernal hopes to reveal the first details of the eVTOL design in 2023, Shin says. “We’re not going to build this vehicle,” he adds, referring to the vision concept issued earlier by the company. “However, some major characteristics will probably be preserved from the vision vehicle like the wing and some of the electric propulsion aspects,” he adds.

Supernal Chief Technology Officer Ben Diachun says “we’re just getting started in the design phase. What we’re here at Farnborough to do is to introduce our work from a passenger-centered approach, and that’s why we brought a Supernal cabin concept. We’re not worried about being first. But we are worried about being the right vehicle to the right market first. We’re looking at 2028 as initial entry into the market and then working backward from there to do the development responsibly through a series of technology demonstrators, prototypes and preproduction vehicles,” he says.

Guy Norris

Guy is a Senior Editor for Aviation Week, covering technology and propulsion. He is based in Colorado Springs.