Air Taxi

Hyundai Creates Urban Air Mobility Division, Hires Longtime NASA Engineer

By Brian Garrett-Glaser | October 2, 2019
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Artist’s sketch of future urban air mobility. (NASA)

Hyundai Motor Group has created an Urban Air Mobility (UAM) division and hired longtime NASA aeronautics director Dr. Jaiwon Shin to lead it at the executive vice president level. Hyundai is the latest automotive company to announce a significant investment in the space.

The new division has yet to finalize its business roadmap and operational plans, but will develop “body design, flight control software and safety technologies for smart mobility products within the aviation industry,” according to a Hyundai representative. The company could not specify the scale of its investment in UAM.

“Since before Dr. Shin’s appointment, the company has been taking part in a Korean government project for Optionally Piloted Air Vehicles (OPPAV), specifically in the development of electrical propulsion systems, electrical management systems, motors, inverters and batteries,” the representative told Avionics International.

Dr. Shin retired from NASA on August 30 as associate administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, a position he held since 2008. He oversaw a $725 million research budget that included the supersonic X-plane, aircraft electrification, unmanned traffic management and urban air mobility. Shin worked extensively on U.S. Air Force and White House aeronautics policy and was a regular participant at the annual Uber Elevate conference.

Recently, automakers Zhejiang Geely Holding Group — which owns Volvo — and Daimler invested in Volocopter’s $55 million Series C fundraising round, with Geely’s chairman, Li Shufu, commenting that the company is transitioning from “being an automotive manufacturer to a mobility technology group, investing in and developing a wide range of next-generation technologies.”

Joby Aviation, a secretive eVTOL air taxi developer that is one of Uber’s six announced partners, counts the venture arms of Intel, JetBlue and Toyota among its investment partners, with a total of more than $100 million raised. Speaking at Revolution.Aero in San Francisco recently, Jim Adler, managing director of Toyota AI Ventures, explained his company’s strategic investment in Joby as a marriage of Toyota’s large-scale manufacturing capabilities — the automaker has produced more than 10 million cars annually since 2012 — with Joby’s vision for the widespread use of its vehicles.

“Urban Air Mobility is expected to become a critically important part of the integrated mobility solution for ever-increasing traffic problems in mega cities around the world,” Hyundai stated in its press release.

Will more automakers follow suit in the months and years to come? A representative for General Motors confirmed the company had not made any announcements in the UAM space and declined to comment on future investments. Tesla Motors and Volkswagen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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