Porsche and Boeing have signed a “Memorandum of Understanding to explore the premium urban air mobility market”.
With the aim of extending “urban traffic into airspace”, the companies say that they will share their “unique market strengths and insight”.
Detlev von Platen, a member of Porsche’s executive board for sales and marketing, says: “Porsche is looking to enhance its scope as a sports car manufacturer by becoming a leading brand for premium mobility.
“In the longer term, this could mean moving into the third dimension of travel.”
Though details of the partnership are unclear, the companies have confirmed that they are developing a fully electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (VTOL). This category of vehicle aircraft — one that can hover, take off and land vertically — includes already-existing vehicles such as helicopters and drones.
Porsche and Boeing say that they will “implement and test a prototype” along with Porsche subsidiaries, Porsche Engineering Services and Studio F.A. Porsche and Boeing subsidiary, Aurora Flight Sciences.
No timeframe has been given for the project, though a 2018 report from Porsche Consulting — the car company’s management consultancy — claims that the “urban air mobility market will pick up speed after 2025”.
That report also outlined how air mobility can “transport passengers more quickly and efficiently than current conventional means of terrestrial transport, at a lower cost with greater flexibility”.
It is not yet known which audiences will be targeted — whether it would be a privately owned car or part of a ride-sharing service, for example — though the companies say it will research “analysis of the market potential for premium vehicles”.
Motivation and challenges
Nadescha Vornehm, a representative from Porsche, told Design Week that this development was a natural extension for the company: “Urban air mobility in general seems to be a fit for our brand.
Mobility in the air is faster, more efficient and more flexible than the classic means of transport. This fits with Porsche and it is technically feasible.”
While it might sound good in theory, Vornehm also outlined some of the challenges that face Porsche’s new project. There are a “number of legal hurdles” with implementing electronic aircraft, she says. In this area, Porsche is “relying on close cooperation with the corresponding authorities,” according to Vornehm.
More technical issues are also a factor. “Significant progress is necessary for the batteries compared with today’s capacity and energy density,” she adds.
It will also require a significant shift in mindset for the public. In an effort to “achieve social acceptance among customers”, Porsche will have to work on issues such as safety and noise pollution, Vornehm says.
As well as considering the cars themselves, Vornehm adds that an “infrastructure must be established that provides the basis for the third — particularly electronic — dimension of mobility”.
How transport innovation — and in particular the move to airspace — will affect cities is a pressing issue for urban planning. In their 2019 Design Forecast report, architectural company Gensler, reported that “aerial ride-sharing” is gaining traction. For example, Uber Elevate, a sector of Uber dedicated to aerial ridesharing, plans to launch a fleet of electric VTOLs by 2023 in Dallas, Los Angeles and Melbourne.
This will “radically reshape travel throughout — and in some cases between — cities”, Gensler says, pointing to how “aerial urban mobility hubs” could be designed as “mixed use destinations, ideally suited for hospitality venues”.
The possibility of flying automobiles is a popular field of development for engineering, though one that has so far yielded mixed results.
In 2017, Dutch manufacturer Pal-V announced plans for a two-seat hybrid car and gyroplane. While it was originally planned to be on the roads by 2018, the estimated date for customers to drive a vehicle is now 2021.
Lilium, a Munich-based start-up, has developed its own VTOL, the Lilium Jet, as part of its on-demand air taxi service. It recently completed its first flight and won the 2019 Red Dot: Luminary award in the Design Concept category. It plans to roll out the service by 2025.