More Automakers Move Into Urban Air Mobility Market
Urban air mobility is a dynamic market. Aviation Week had barely published its analysis of the early leaders in the emerging industry, when secretive startup Archer announced a partnership with automaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to boost its ambition to be among the first wave of air-taxi service providers.
- More automakers move into the urban air mobility market
- Fiat Chrysler partners with startup Archer; GM unveils Cadillac eVTOL concept
Archer plans to begin production of its electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) vehicle in 2023 and enter the air-taxi market in 2024. This puts the company on a similar timeline to market leaders Joby Aviation and Lilium. China’s EHang intends to begin commercial service in 2021, and Germany’s Volocopter will follow in 2023.
Palo Alto, California-based Archer says the agreement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) will enable it to prepare for large-scale production of its eVTOL vehicle by providing access to the automaker’s engineering and design expertise, composite materials capabilities and low-cost supply chain.
FCA is the first of the Big Three Detroit automakers to partner with an urban air mobility (UAM) company, notes Brett Adcock, co-founder and co-CEO of Archer. But hard on the heels of the announcement, General Motors (GM) unveiled its design concept for a Cadillac single-seat eVTOL. Among other automakers, Daimler and China’s Geely have invested in Volocopter, and South Korea’s Hyundai plans to enter the UAM market by 2028.
Adcock likens the deal with FCA to Toyota’s January 2020 investment in Joby, under which the Japanese automaker is helping the rival eVTOL startup to plan production. He does not comment on whether FCA is investing in Archer but says he expects the relationship to “unfold in a big way.”
“There is more to come,” Adcock adds.
Archer emerged from stealth mode in May 2020 with Marc Lore, president and CEO of Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce business, as its main investor. The startup is developing an eVTOL aircraft designed to carry a pilot and four passengers up to 60 mi. at 150 mph. It plans to be both manufacturer and operator.
The company has attracted former members of the Zee Aero, Wisk and Airbus Vahana eVTOL design teams and has “plenty of capital, . . . an incredible team and a strategy to get to market in a straight line,” says Adam Goldstein, co-founder and co-CEO of Archer.
That strategy involves planning from the outset for volume production.“The aerospace industry does not make a lot of aircraft,” Adcock says. “It’s low volume, in the hundreds. We need to make a lot of vehicles to bring this service to the masses. We need manufacturing processes for high volume, and that means automotive expertise. FCA is a powerhouse . . . and a strong partner to bring on.”
Archer has been working with FCA for the past year on engineering and design projects. The startup plans to fly a full-scale engineering prototype of its eVTOL this year. FCA has collaborated on cockpit design, and parts from its automotive supply chain will be used. “To make this a low-cost service, we need an affordable aircraft,” Adcock says, “which means we need access to a supply chain like Fiat Chrysler’s.”
Goldstein says the companies came together because “Archer needs to start to think ahead, and Fiat Chrysler wanted a foothold in the UAM industry.” The Italian-American carmaker, which has agreed to merge with France’s PSA to create the world’s fourth-largest automotive manufacturer, is shifting to electric vehicles (EV), and Archer hopes to tap into its expertise in battery cells and electric motors.
GM also plans to expand its focus on EVs into the air. Its concept for a single-seat autonomous eVTOL is designed around the next generation of the company’s Ultium battery, which will use lithium-metal chemistry with twice the energy density of the Ultium lithium-ion batteries in GM’s latest EVs.
Unveiled by GM CEO Mary Barra on Jan. 12 in a keynote address at the virtual CES 2021 show, the Cadillac eVTOL is designed to provide a connection between first- and last-mile EV travel by flying from rooftop to rooftop at speeds of up to 90 kph (55 mph) with a 90-kW motor powering four ducted coaxial rotors.
—With Lindsay Bjerregaard in Chicago