Toyota is making its first big bet on the airborne urban mobility market of the future by investing $394 million in Joby Aviation, a California-based company that has developed a four-passenger, battery-electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.
Toyota served as the lead investor in Joby's $590 million Series C financing round and says it will share its vaunted expertise in manufacturing, quality and cost controls to help Joby develop, produce and commercialize its eVTOL aircraft. Toyota will also appoint Executive Vice President Shigeki Tomoyama to the Joby board of directors.
The move gives the automaker a presence in the increasingly popular "flying car" segment that has seen the likes of Hyundai, Porsche, Audi and Uber start to develop airborne taxi concepts as one solution to rising urban traffic congestion.
Toyota filed for patent protection back in 2018 for a car capable of driving on terra firma and flying, courtesy of the ability to transform itself via a pair of struts that tilt upward and sprout spring-loaded rotor blades from the wheels, enabling it to fly. But the company hasn't showed off an actual prototype.
"Air transportation has been a long-term goal for Toyota, and while we continue our work in the automobile business, this agreement sets our sights to the sky," Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda said in a statement.
As for the aircraft itself, it looks like a combination of a helicopter, small fixed-wing airplane and drone. Joby claims it can travel at 200 mph and go more than 150 miles on a single charge, with multiple redundancies baked in to avoid single points of failure. No details are offered about its battery pack or powertrain.
Joby is in major growth mode, as evidenced by the many job openings listed on its website, and it says it is building manufacturing and testing facilities in Marina, California, not far from its headquarters in coastal Santa Cruz. The company was founded in 2009 and says it has opened its formal certification program with the Federal Aviation Administration.