Toyota has been looking to the skies for awhile now. Not with an airplane like rival Honda, but with flying cars as a means of mobility.
Last week, Toyota announced it had invested $394 million in the Group C round of funding for Joby Aviation’s electric vertical take off and landing (VTOL) aircraft.
In addition, Toyota will share its manufacturing, quality, and cost controls expertise to help Joby develop the aircraft, and Toyota Motor Corporation Executive Vice President Shigeki Tomoyama will join Joby's board of directors.
In its announcement, Toyota said it is embracing emerging technologies as it transitions to a mobility company. Toyota believes that its collaboration with Joby will make urban on-demand air transportation part of the mainstream. VTOLS like Joby's aircraft are expected to create new mobility services, like flying taxis or an airborne version of Uber.
Joby's VTOL is a four-passenger electric flying vehicle that can take off and land vertically and transition to forward movement in flight. Joby quotes a range of more than 150 miles and speeds up to 200 mph. The company launched in 2009 and is located in the mountains above Santa Cruz, California.
Toyota's investment is the largest of the $590 million Joby brought in with its recent round of Group C financing.
In 2012, an in-house Toyota crew of 30 engineers called Cartivator began moonlighting on a project to build an electric flying car. In 2017, Toyota announced it was financing that team to enter the race to build a flying car. The project became known as SkyDrive and it imagined a single-seat car/plane that could fly at speeds up to 62 mph. At the time, the group intended to use SkyDrive to light the torch at the 2020 Summer Olympics, which are set for Tokyo this July.
Toyota isn't the only automaker looking to the skies. Hyundai laid out a vision of self-driving pods, flying taxis, and hubs that bring these two forms of transportation together at CES in January. Daimler, Porsche, Audi, and Aston Martin have also looked into VTOLs.