Tesla investor-backed startup promises $300,000 flying car by 2025: 'It's no more complicated than a Toyota Corolla'

Tesla investor-backed startup promises $300,000 flying car by 2025: ‘It’s no more complicated than a Toyota Corolla’

The promise of a future filled with flying cars is not new. For decades, futurists have touted the dream of your car taking off and hovering above a traffic jam.

So the most interesting part of a recent prototype announcement from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Alef Aeronautics may not be the car itself, which Alef says will be able to take off through the air. vertically and fly like a helicopter up to 110 miles on a single charge.

Now is the time: the company says it plans to start delivering the vehicles to customers by the end of 2025.

Alef’s Model A will cost $300,000 and pre-sales are currently open, with interested customers only able to pay a deposit of $150 to join the waitlist, or $1,500 for a “priority” spot. ” on the list. Alef says the company has been testing and piloting its prototype since 2019, and the version it plans to deliver to customers will also have a range of 200 miles.

Alef CEO Jim Dukhovny told CNBC Make It that the car is primarily intended to stay on roads, ideally only traveling through the air for short heights and distances to avoid specific obstacles. He refers to these times as “jump” scenarios, “where the customer primarily uses the vehicle as a car, and only ‘jumps’ over obstacles when needed.”

In a statement in October, Dukhovny referred to “road conditions, weather and infrastructure” as potential reasons for briefly taking flight.

It’s a bold concept. But for a flying car to hit the highways soon, a lot has to happen, experts say.

A difficult road to legality and mass production

The car’s design features a carbon fiber body with an open mesh-like top that houses four propellers on each side. Once the car takes off vertically, the entire vehicle spins sideways, with the two-seat cockpit also rotating, allowing the propellers to steer it like an oversized flying drone.

As for driving the vehicle, Alef says it’s designed to meet automotive laws and regulations, making it “road legal,” according to the company.

Alef even has the backing of Tim Draper, a top venture capitalist who was an early investor in both Tesla and SpaceX. Its namesake Draper Associates Fund V invested $3 million in seed capital in Alef in October.

But Mike Ramsey, an automotive and smart mobility analyst at Gartner, says Alef’s plans are “good enough” – but argues the company has “a tough road” ahead of it.

Mass production is a challenge for any auto startup, and it’s often difficult to get regulatory clearances to legally drive on public roads, let alone fly over them, Ramsey says.

Ramsey notes that the Federal Aviation Administration has provided updated guidance on the requirements necessary for ground vehicles to be legally permitted to take off and fly in public airspace. The FAA even reportedly gave another flying car concept, Samson Sky’s Switchblade, the green light for flight testing in July.

But Ramsey is adamant that even with more clarity from the FAA and other regulators, companies seeking to have their flying car concepts certified still face a “major challenge”.

“The security requirements that each [road] vehicle must have, how you can make it work with the requirements you would need to make a flying vehicle legal would be quite substantial,” Ramsey says.

Alef hopes to speed up its regulatory process by first seeking airline certification outside of the United States, particularly in Asia and Europe, Dukhovny said: “[That] will not only help us build a safety record, but will also allow us to gather enough data to help with the FAA certification process in the United States.”

Dukhovny also plans to initially have the Model A certified as a low-speed vehicle (LSV), which would mean the car couldn’t exceed around 25 miles per hour on public roads. Alef will later apply for full car certification, he adds.

“That would be an incredible feat”

The Model A isn’t Alef’s only bold plan: Dukhovny has also publicly announced plans to build a cheaper version, called the Model Z, which retails for just $35,000 by 2030.

In October, Dukhovny told Reuters the proposed Model Z would be “no more complicated than a Toyota Corolla” and should therefore have a similar price range.

But it’s “not easy” to build a mass-produced vehicle – like the Corolla – let alone turn one into a legal aircraft, Ramsey says.

“I would personally be very surprised if we had a flying vehicle like this ready for production within the next two years,” he adds. “That would be an incredible accomplishment.”

Not everyone agrees. Hugh Martin, CEO of transportation logistics startup Lacuna Technologies, told CNBC last year that he could imagine commercially available flying cars as early as 2024.

Fiat Chrysler and Xpeng in China are among the big companies vying to be the first to bring a flying car to market. Hyundai and Uber have been working on a flying taxi concept since 2020, and Hyundai subsidiary Supernal has announced plans to commercially launch a flying capsule by 2028.

But even if the cars are ready by then, regulatory approval could be a much longer process.

“Only the regulatory challenges are going to be big enough,” Ramsey says.

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