Finally, a flying car SPAC

Joby Aviation, a 12-year-old eVTOL startup, hit the public markets at a $4.5 billion valuation
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Joby is the first US flying car company to bring its talents to the public markets.

This morning, Joby SPAC’d, taking the preferred route of pre-revenue deeptech players everywhere. The 12-year-old-startup now has ~$1.6 billion in its war chest, following a reverse merger with Reinvent Technology Partners, led by LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman, Zynga cofounder Mark Pincus, and investor Michael Thompson.

While we’re here: “Flying car” is a bit of a misnomer. Along with other soon-to-be-public players, Joby is focused on electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

Similar to unidentified aerial phenomena…

...eVTOLs are unlike anything that came before. They take off like Luke Skywalker (vertically) and leverage electric propulsion systems, promising a still-sci-fi form of urban mobility, zero-emissions flying, and a quieter noise profile than helicopters.

eVTOLs have benefitted from many breakthroughs, including advances in: energy density, lightweight materials like carbon fiber, 3D printing, and Moore’s Law (enabling enough onboard compute).

Paul Sciarra, Joby’s executive chairman (and Pinterest cofounder), told us Joby is transitioning from “product design and development to a company that’s super focused on commercialization.” For the last decade, Joby tinkered with “electric motors, battery pack design, aerodynamic analysis”...the works, he said.

Phase two

Joby’s five-seat, tilt-rotor, piloted prototypes have completed 1,000+ test flights. And this July, Joby announced a test-flight of 154.6 miles on a single charge (avg. speed = 120.5 mph).

Joby is targeting commercial service for 2024. Between now and then, it must:

  1. Receive regulatory approval. The company has already agreed to FAA certification conditions. Sree Palle, a manager at FEV Consulting, told the Brew, “In our view, Joby is ahead of other players in this space.”
  2. Go from prototyping to volume production.
  3. Develop an aerial ridesharing app with adequate supply on its network (Joby’s acquisition of Uber Elevate may help here).
  4. Stay solvent.

Before eVTOLs take flight in large numbers, Palle said, other systems must be developed: aircraft traffic management, operations management, urban air mobility corridors, communications protocols, and more.

Zoom out: Markets have Joby pegged as a slight favorite in the nascent aerial, all-electric horse race. Lilium and Archer Aviation, both also targeting commercial service in 2024, have announced SPAC deals that would value them at $3.3 billion and $1.7 billion, respectively. Joby went out of the gate at $4.5 billion today.

By 2030, Palle says his team expects 1,500+ eVTOL units will be sold per year, with use cases ranging from emergency response to air taxis. Initially, he predicts, the taxis will be operated at a price between $3–$9 per mile, per passenger.—RD

Stay up to date on emerging tech

Drones, automation, AI, and more. The technologies that will shape the future of business, all in one newsletter.