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Toyota makes a big bet on secretive flying taxi startup Joby Aviation

Toyota makes a big bet on secretive flying taxi startup Joby Aviation


The company, which was at one point run out of a Northern California commune, is on a streak

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Joby Aviation, a California-based aerospace company that has been working on electric aircraft for over a decade, just closed its latest round of financing with $590 million in venture capital funding — and a major new partner.

Toyota will work with Joby to design and build a fleet of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft for use in a ride-hailing service. The Japanese auto giant was part of a previous Joby funding round that closed in 2018, helping the secretive startup raise $100 million. Obviously Toyota liked what it saw, because it stepped up to lead this latest round of fundraising, bringing Joby’s total raise to $720 million. Joby recently announced a deal with Uber to deploy its air taxis on its ride-hailing network — though its unclear whether Toyota’s air taxis will make the cut.

Toyota previously helped raise $100 million for Joby

Joby is the brainchild of inventor JoeBen Bevirt, who started the company in 2009. The company operated in relative obscurity until 2018, when Joby announced it had raised a surprising $100 million from a variety of investors, including the venture capital arms of Intel, Toyota, and JetBlue. The money helped finance development of the company’s air taxi prototype, which has been conducting test flights at Joby’s private airfield in Northern California. Bevirt helps run an incubator outside of Santa Cruz that’s been described as a quasi-commune.

Unlike the dozens of other companies that are currently building electric VTOL aircraft, Joby has kept much of its project under wraps. But as part of the Toyota announcement, Joby decided to share some more details about its aircraft — and some images.

The all-electric aircraft has six rotors and seats five, including the pilot. It can take off vertically, like a helicopter, and then shift into forward flight using tilt rotors. Joby says it can reach a top speed of 200 mph, can travel 150 miles on a single charge, and is 100 times quieter than a conventional aircraft.

“We are building a new system for transportation to transform your daily life, at greater safety and, in time, at a similar cost to driving,” Bevirt said in a statement.

With Toyota as a manufacturing partner, Joby believes it can bring its aircraft to market faster than the rest. “Toyota will share its expertise in manufacturing, quality, and cost controls to support the development and production of Joby Aviation’s aircraft,” the company says. “This support, along with the capital investment, will accelerate the certification and deployment of this new mode of local transportation.”

It’s deal-making season for Joby

It’s deal-making season for Joby. The company formed a partnership with Uber a few weeks ago. Joby will supply and operate the electric air taxis, and Uber will provide air traffic control help, landing pad construction, connections to ground transportation, and, of course, its ride-share network reconfigured to allow customers to hail flying cars (rather than boring, regular, terrestrial ones). The ride-hailing company also recently showed off a full-scale model of the flying taxi it helped create with Hyundai, and has other manufacturing partners as well.

Of course, many companies — Joby included — have promised revolutionary new aircraft for years, only to miss deadlines or fail to live up to past promises. Kitty Hawk, the flying car venture backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, is reorganizing amid reports about breakdowns, battery fires, and returned deposits. Zunum Aero struggled to raise money and was forced to layoff employees after Boeing backed away as a backer.

After all, the jury is still out on whether an electric vertical takeoff and landing-based air taxi system would make an appreciable contribution to a next-generation transportation system, or whether it would simply be an escape hatch for the super-rich to avoid street-level congestion.