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Uber and Hyundai’s plan to develop air taxis hinges on mass production

The joint announcement at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) by Uber Elevate and Hyundai Motor Company that the companies will partner to develop Uber Air air-taxis for a future aerial ride-share network is news, but just as importantly, it’s corporate messaging. At the crux of the announcement is Hyundai’s reputation as an automotive OEM with a perceived ability to leverage economies of scale. For an urban air mobility (UAM) market to emerge at any sort of scale, Uber and industry observers believe that hundreds of thousands of four-passenger electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft will have to be built.

Their numbers, along with theoretically cheap eVTOL operating costs, are the key to getting the cost per seat at or near the level of ground transportation. But passenger air vehicles aren’t built in taxi-cab-like numbers. So the prospect of a car maker churning out air taxis like sedans is an attractive one.

“We believe Hyundai has the potential to build Uber Air vehicles at rates unseen in the current aerospace industry, producing high quality, reliable aircraft at high volumes to drive down passenger costs per trip,” Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, said at CES.

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