Toyota Leads $590 Million Funding Round in California VTOL Aircraft Startup Joby Aviation

Toyota Leads $590 Million Funding Round in California VTOL Aircraft Startup Joby Aviation

Author: Eric Walz   

One of the world's biggest automakers is placing a big bet on "flying cars." Japan's Toyota Motor Corp announced it led a $590 million Series C funding round in California-based vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft startup Joby Aviation. Toyota's contribution in the latest round was $394 million. 

Joby Aviation is developing an electric air taxi that may one day whisk passengers over urban traffic and cut hours long commutes down to just 15 minutes. The company's electric (eVTOL) aircraft takes off and lands like a helicopter and flies like an airplane in forward flight.

As part of the investment, Shigeki Tomoyama, the Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation, will join Joby Aviation's board of directors. 

"Air transportation has been a long-term goal for Toyota, and while we continue our work in the automobile business, this agreement sets our sights to the sky," said Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda. "As we take up the challenge of air transportation together with Joby, an innovator in the emerging eVTOL space, we tap the potential to revolutionize future transportation and life."

Advances in smaller drone technology have led to the development of eVTOL aircraft that can carry up to five passengers and fly autonomously or with a pilot above urban traffic. These smaller aircraft can also take off and land from building rooftops.

Toyota's announcement comes just over a week after Hyundai Motor Co announced a partnership with ride-hailing giant Uber on its Uber Air flying taxi service. Uber hopes to complete the first ride-hailing flights in 2023 using VTOL aircraft built by Hyundai.

German automaker Porsche is also working on a "flying sports car." In Oct 2019, Porsche signed a memorandum of understanding with aviation company Boeing to work together developing a concept for a "premium" electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.  

Joby Aviation, which is based in Santa Cruz, California, is among a handful of well-funded VTOL startups including Kitty Hawk, which is backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, and Germany aviation company Lilium, which is backed by Chinese tech giant Tencent, that are racing to develop VTOL aircraft that can carry passengers.

Joby's team of engineers and physicists have been working largely in stealth for the past ten years to develop a quiet, all-electric VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft, which will be instrumental in the commercial launch of the emerging on-demand urban air taxi market.  

Toyota will support Joby with its expertise in manufacturing, quality, and cost controls to support the development and production of Joby Aviation's aircraft. With support from Toyota and its latest capital investment, Joby plans to will accelerate the certification and deployment of VTOL 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," said Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt. "This collaboration with Toyota represents an unprecedented commitment of money and resources for us and this new industry from one of the world's leading automakers."

Joby Aviation's VTOL aircraft is a piloted, five-seat vehicle capable of speeds of 200 miles per hour and can fly over 150 miles on a single charge. Its flight systems are built with high levels of redundancy for enhanced safety and reliability.

The aircraft is 100 times quieter than conventional aircraft during takeoff and landing, and near-silent when flying overhead, according to Joby. The passenger experience is optimized for comfortable aerial ride-sharing operations. The aircraft was designed so its easy for passengers to enter for departure and exit after landing.

The new investment from Toyota brings Joby Avaition's total funding to $720 million. 

Along with Toyota, participatants in the latest Series C round include SPARX Group, Intel Capital, Capricorn Investment Group, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures and AME Cloud Ventures.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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