Hyundai Motor Group last week launched Supernal, a standalone business that aims to make an affordable, zero-emission flying taxi service a reality.
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., and with offices throughout California, Supernal is an evolution of HMG's Urban Air Mobility division established in 2019, and is headed by Jaiwon Shin, an aeronautics engineer who worked on aviation research and development at NASA for 30 years.
The company is developing a family of electric aircraft, with the first of these planned to offer commercial flights by 2028. The first aircraft will be able to fit four or five people and be capable of vertical takeoff and landing. Autonomous flight will also be possible, when regulations allow, according to the company.
An example flight route could be a 24-minute trip between downtown Los Angeles and Anaheim, as opposed to around 70 minutes that a car trip requires during peak hour. For U.K. readers, Supernal said a trip between London's city center and Heathrow Airport could take just 14 minutes, instead of 75 minutes with the car.
The aircraft will rely on batteries for most trips but for longer trips, Supernal is exploring the potential for hydrogen fuel cells.
Earlier this year, HMG announced a partnership with a company in the U.K. called Urban Air Port to develop the infrastructure required for flying taxis. HMG has also partnered with the company that runs South Korea's Incheon International Airport to incorporate flying taxi infrastructure. You can imagine major hubs for flying taxis at key points like airports and possibly central stations. These could then be connected with smaller locations, referred to as vertiports, potentially even located on rooftops.
To make the flights affordable, Supernal plans to make its aircraft much more affordable than, for example, a conventional helicopter. It will attempt this by leveraging HMG's production expertise and building the aircraft at scale.
According to Shin, the segment could be worth $1.5 trillion—yes, with a t—within the next two decades. That's why there's a number of players in this space, even though electric flying taxis are essentially unproven. Rivals include Volocopter, which is backed by Geely and Mercedes-Benz, as well as Joby Aviation, which is backed by Toyota.