Despite the complexities of operating during the Covid-19 pandemic, Hyundai executives remain encouraged that their urban air mobility (UAM) plans are still on track for the Korean carmaker's first eVTOL aircraft to enter service in 2028.
Speaking during a recent Automotive Press Association virtual interview, José Muñoz, global COO of Hyundai Motor Company and CEO and president of Hyundai North America, reaffirmed the 2028 timeline for the SA-1 model first detailed during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this year and said, “this project is progressing as planned.” Hyundai describes the SA-1 as a personal air vehicle, but in fact it is a four-seater that is expected to enter service for air taxi operations as part of the Uber Elevate network.
Muñoz added that Hyundai's UAM division COO, Pamela Cohn, has been building up the team of engineers for the S-A1 and that team has been working to advance the technologies. The new business unit was formed quietly last year before Hyundai's January 2020 announcement of a $1.5 billion investment in UAM and its selection as an Uber partner. It is led by former NASA engineer Jaiwon Shin who has ambitions to tap into what the company believes will be a $1.5 trillion market over the next 20 years.
The S-A1 will be designed to cruise at up to 180 miles per hour and fly at altitudes of around 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet above ground on trips up to 60 miles. Plans call for the PAV to be 100 percent electric, using distributed electric propulsion that, power multiple rotors and propellers around the airframe. Hyundai said this approach reduces noise and increases safety by decreasing single points of failure. During peak hours, the propulsion system would require about five to seven minutes for recharging.
Hyundai anticipates the aircraft will be piloted initially, but over time would be used autonomously. The company intends that passengers would be carried to and from flights in new electric S-Link Purpose Built Vehicles that it is developing for ground transportation.
In July Hyundai followed the January unveiling of the concept at the Consumer Electronics Show with the announcement that it had teamed up with Urban-Air Port to explore “multifunctional and scalable” infrastructure to support the use of UAMs to move people and cargo. The Korean automotive company further revealed it was planning to invest $1.5B in the UAM sector over the next five years.
More recently Hyundai also has formed partnerships with Incheon International Airport Corp. in the Korean capital Seoul, Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co., and KT Corp. to accelerate the development of UAM and work together on test flights.
Hyundai was encouraged by government support, pointing to the Korean government announcement in June of a Korean UAM Roadmap to commercialize UAM. Muñoz told the APA audience that the company was further optimistic by the support for green technologies that President-elect Joe Biden has expressed and said that Hyundai is “well placed” for such initiatives.
“We are fully in,” Muñoz said of the UAM efforts. “We see a lot of opportunities ahead of us.”