Toyota and Joby Ramp Up Electric Aviation
The carmaker and the California-based aerospace startup are moving toward manufacturing an all-electric VTOL commuter aircraft.
As the electrification of land transportation has finally turned the corner and is beginning to reach the mainstream, the next challenge is electrified aviation. Rolling an electric vehicle (EV) along the ground using an electric traction motor and lithium-ion batteries while providing acceptable performance and reasonable range has challenged some of the best automotive engineers in the world. Using the same technology to overcome gravity and provide reliable, safe air travel presents a whole new set of challenges.
Joby aircraft. Image courtesy of Joby Aviation
Four Electric Aviation Categories
Electric aviation falls into four general categories. On the largest scale, companies like Airbus and Boeing are developing concepts for medium-range mid-sized airliners that will be capable of replacing existing short and medium-haul passenger aircraft, hopefully beginning in 2035. On a more modest scale, several aviation startups are attempting to build smaller, commuter-type aircraft. Some use vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) technologies, often with ducted fans or multiple propellors to provide vertical lift.
The most interesting electric aviation concepts are being built around the idea of a short-distance commuter aircraft that can carry 2-5 passengers and be used between the downtown areas of a city and an airport located in the suburbs. These are almost invariably VTOL craft, and some are designed for autonomous operation without an onboard pilot.
Lastly, electric aviation has already proved itself for unpiloted drones that are now used commercially and by the military for various tasks. These include pipeline and electric transmission line inspections, agricultural crop spraying, package delivery, movie making, surveillance, and armed military strikes.
Car companies have long held a fascination with aviation.
In the 1920s and 30s, Ford Motor Company built the Tri-Motor,
one of the period’s most successful passenger aircraft.
Automakers’ Interest in Electric Aviation
Car companies have long held a fascination with aviation. In the 1920s and 30s, Ford Motor Company built the Tri-Motor, one of the period’s most successful passenger aircraft. BMW, Daimler-Benz, Packard, and others made a variety of aircraft engines. Today HondaJet, a part of Honda, builds a high-performance light business jet.
On the electric aviation front, car maker Stellantis has joined forces with aviation startup Archer to build the Midnight electric VTOL aircraft designed to carry four passengers and a pilot for short distance trips of around 20 miles.
Toyota And Joby
In 2020, Toyota announced a collaboration with U.S.-based aerospace company Joby Aviation to develop and commercialize an all-electric VTOL aircraft. Three years later, the two companies announced a long-term agreement with Toyota Motor to supply powertrains and other critical components for aircraft production. Toyota is Joby’s largest shareholder, investing around $400 million. The latest agreement has Toyota advising on Joby’s pilot production line in Marina, California.
In addition, Toyota will use its manufacturing prowess to build components designed by Joby and deliver them to the aircraft company’s powertrain and electronic manufacturing facility, which is located in San Carlos, CA. Finished electronics assemblies will then be shipped to the Marina plant for integration into the aircraft.
Joby’s VTOL aircraft is a piloted five-seat aircraft with a max speed of 200 mph and a range of up to 150 miles. Since Joby was established in 2009, the company has completed more than 1,000 test flights.
Air Taxi Flights in Japan
Earlier this year, Joby announced it had been selected, along with ANA Holdings, Inc., by the 2025 World Exposition to operate demonstration flights during Expo 2025 in Osaka, Japan. Working together, the two companies plan to provide flight connections between the Expo venue and other locations in Osaka. Joby was the first foreign air taxi manufacturer to apply for its VTOL aircraft certification in Japan. More than 28 million guests are expected to visit the Expo between April and October 2025, and the demonstration flights will be a part of the Expo’s Smart Mobility section.