Flying Cars Encounter Turbulence: Kittyhawk to Shut Down while XPeng Increases Investment
Flying cars, as the intersection of automobiles, aviation and new energy, have attracted plenty of capital over the past few years. However, one company, Kittyhawk, founded in 2010 by Sebastian Thrun, the “father of Google’s unmanned vehicles” and fundes by Larry Page, the founder of Google, suddenly announced it is shutting down on September 21 this year. This is undoubtedly pouring cold water on the currently very hot flying car industry. According to DoNews analysis, the shutdown of the company shows that flying cars are still facing many challenges as they try to enter commercial operation on a larger scale.
According to some statistics, including those from Boeing and Airbus in the aviation industry, Volkswagen, Toyota and Honda in the automobile industry, and technology giants Google and Intel, there are over 200 flying car projects currently being researched around the world, and more than 160 companies are trying to manufacture flying cars. Morgan Stanley predicts that this market will reach $1.5 trillion by 2040.
In China, car companies including Geely, a traditional Chinese auto giant, and XPeng Motors, a new car making force, have already started their work in the area. Geely was one of the earliest car companies involved in flying car development in China. In 2017, the company acquired flying car company Terrafugia and two years later, it joined hands with Daimler AG to jointly invest €50 million ($48.7 million) in Volocopter, a German flying car company. In addition to mergers and acquisitions, in September 2020, Geely joined hands with AOSSCI, an industrial drone company in China, to jointly establish the unmanned aerial vehicle brand Aerofugia.
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Meanwhile, XPeng Motors set up XPeng Aeroht after acquiring HT Flying Car, and in October 2021, it completed the round A of financing worth over $500 million, with a pre-investment valuation of $1 billion, setting a financing record in the field of flying cars in Asia. In 2021, XPeng Aeroht released the concept model of its sixth generation flying car which will be mass-produced in 2024. In July this year, X2, the fifth-generation flying car of XPeng Aeroht was unveiled. This aircraft adopts a carbon fiber structure, weighs 560 kg empty, and can carry two passengers. It has a battery life of 35 minutes, and has a maximum flying height of 1,000 meters.
The industry is not very optimistic about the commercial operation time of flying cars. At the same time, enterprises participating in the flying car industry will face technical problems, policy supervision problems, commercial exploration problems, insurance problems and other challenges.
In terms of security, the existing sensor technology does not meet the requirements for practical application. In terms of power, considering its actual flight time at low altitude, the battery technology is widely favored by the flying car industry at present, while the charging capacity, energy storage capacity and cycle life of flying cars are rather paltry. In addition, the materials used in flying car frames are also currently insufficient.
In addition to technical problems that need to be solved, the greater difficulty lies in policy supervision and market acceptance. At present, the supervision of flying cars in many countries is still lagging. The development of the industry requires an introduction of relevant laws and regulations, the formulation of industry standards and the introduction of favorable policies. The flying car industry also needs to consider how to continuously reduce costs and increase sales.