Urban electric planes have been a fun topic for several years, but we don’t really have any urban electric planes on the market either. One day? One of the things that lifts my spirits in this business is when a major automaker endorses a product or buys a startup. After all, automakers make and sell millions of complex, heavily regulated consumer vehicles. In this regard, this week’s news indicates that the Hyundai Motor Group is more focused than ever on the development of “urban and regional commercial air vehicles and the surrounding market”. The latter indicates that even if Hyundai Motor Group does not develop the vehicles, it develops vehicle components.
The Supernal company unveiled a concept eVTOL vehicle cabin at the Farnborough International Airshow yesterday. This cabin concept offers “the first glimpse of how Hyundai Motor Group (the Group) is integrating automotive capabilities to develop the advanced air mobility (AAM) market.” Supernal has deep roots in the Hyundai Motor Group and has partnered with the conglomerate’s design studios on this project. Supernal is currently working on certifying its first eVTOL aircraft for commercial use in the United States. The company hopes to operate there commercially in 2028. The aim is to then enter the EU and the UK soon after.
What should an eVTOL aircraft look like and include?
The partnership with Hyundai Motor Group on the cabin concept is only part of the collaboration, however. “Beyond the vehicle, Supernal collaborates with external partners and the Group’s more than 50 subsidiaries – which span automotive, auto parts, construction, robotics and autonomous driving – to responsibly co-create the vast AAM value chain.” There’s no good reason for Hyundai Motor Group and its affiliates to get so involved if it’s only viable as a pet project. These are companies that want to see results at scale. That doesn’t mean Supernal will end up selling competitively priced eVTOL vehicles to thousands of buyers a year, but it does mean it’s a possibility.
“For Advanced Air Mobility to become a widespread mode of transportation, every detail – from the passenger experience to regulations and infrastructure – must be considered from the start and work closely together,” said Jaiwon Shin, President. of Hyundai Motor Group and CEO of Supernal. “By leveraging Hyundai Motor Group’s mobility capabilities, Supernal is investing time and resources from the outset to ensure the industry can scale to the masses in the decades to come and reach its exciting potential.”
Although designed for air, the cabin concept just unveiled by Supernal and Hyundai Motor Group shares some key similarities to that of a car, including that it seats 5 people. The design also has characteristics in common with a butterfly, as the team used biomimicry to try to benefit from nature’s vast experience in developing small flying organisms.
“Supernal is teaming up with top automotive designers from Hyundai Motor Group to develop our eVTOL vehicle to be manufacturable and widely accepted by the public,” Shin added. “We are taking the time to create a safe and lightweight commercial eVTOL that provides our future passengers with the safety and comfort they find in their own car.”
“The Supernal eVTOL vehicle builds on the skill of Hyundai Motor Group and the skills of experienced car designers, which has enabled us to develop a new concept of air mobility that is not only safe and rational, but also very emotional” , said Luc Donckerwolke, director. Responsible for the creation of the Hyundai Motor Group. Watch the following video to soak up the computer-generated visuals:
“Supernal’s five-passenger cabin concept provides clues to how the company leverages automotive design processes and materials – while adhering to the highest commercial aviation safety standards – to optimize the experience. AAM passengers and price,” writes Hyundai Motor Group.
“The engineering and design team used the automotive industry’s reductive design approach to create the lightweight cabin, which is made of forged carbon fiber. The ergonomically contoured seats provide a cocoon environment for passengers. Deployable seat consoles mimic automobile center consoles and provide a charging station and storage compartment for personal items. Grab handles built into the cab doors and backrests make getting in and out easy. A combination of lights – including dome lights inspired by automobile sunroofs – adjust to different stages of flight to mimic a “light therapy” effect. The cabin layout is inspired by automotive space innovation with a minimal bulkhead, allowing for generous headroom and all-round functionality.
What do you think? It’s cool ? Is it realistic? Will it hit the market?
Supernal × NREL × Los Angeles — eVTOL Infrastructure and Network Planning
Notably, Supernal recently entered into a partnership with the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). “As a leader in mobility innovation and equity, NREL is well positioned to offer a deeper examination of the feasibility and broader energy system impacts of this emerging mode of transportation,” said said Venu Garikapati, transportation data analytics researcher and project manager at NREL.
“To inform plans for a one-of-a-kind public eVTOL network, Supernal and NREL are collaborating with the City of Los Angeles to study this innovative mode of air travel,” writes NREL. “Throughout this research partnership, NREL will thoroughly assess existing and emerging mobility technologies and transportation hotspots and perform market analysis in the greater Los Angeles area. NREL will use existing and historical travel data to develop a travel heatmap that incorporates travel time, cost and demand for candidate vertiport locations. Researchers will then leverage NREL’s Mobility Energy Productivity (MEP) metric to characterize, measure, and inform movement to and from vertiports. This metric will highlight the feasibility of the AAM network by quantifying the accessibility of each vertiport location. A related visualization tool will compile NREL research data to allow the team to easily visualize and compare network options in Los Angeles and beyond.
Six years is a long way off, and there is still a long way to go before Supernal and Hyundai Motor Group realize their vision of eVTOL commercial aircraft. However, they are now laying a solid foundation to potentially do so, and one cannot ask for much more at this stage of the journey.
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