GM’s Barra talks flying cars and transforming the automaker

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The idea of flying cars is back on the table at General Motors in its pursuit of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.

Mary Barra hosts Ivanka Trump during visit to GM Tech Learning University in Warren



The automaker is considering options in the aerial taxi market. Yeah, that’s right, flying cars. Those options could include making the air taxis or partnering with another firm to make them, a spokesman for GM confirmed. 


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“It’s certainly a space we’re considering,” said Stuart Fowle, GM spokesman. “As Mary Barra said, when we think about Ultium and all of its potential, aerial is an area we’re looking at it.”

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It’s not the first time GM has talked about the idea. In 2018, GM’s Mike Abelson, vice president of global strategy, told the audience at the FT Future of the Car Summit USA in Detroit that GM has had conversations with “air taxi” companies about using the carmaker’s autonomous and electric vehicle technology to create flying cars.

More: GM’s future lineup will run on electricity, drive itself — and fly

But now GM CEO Mary Barra is talking about it and transforming the company.

‘Natural next step’

Barra mentioned the air taxi idea during her prepared remarks at an RBC Capital Markets virtual conference Monday. It was the first time she’d made such a reference in the context of describing how GM could further capitalize on its development of EVs and its proprietary Ultium advanced electric battery system.

“We believe strongly in our EV future and not just for vehicles, the strength and flexibility of our Ultium battery systems open doors for many use cases, including aerial mobility, which represents a natural next step in a zero emissions vision,” Barra said.

This most recent confirmation that GM is looking at flying cars was first reported by Reuters, which said an announcement by GM about a partnership or work in this space could come as soon as next year.

“We have nothing further to say about timing,” Fowle said. “But it’s an exciting space for us and something we’re looking at. We’re exploring the right way to do it and we’re not shy about taking on partners or doing it ourselves. It’s early in the area of flying cars … we’re always talking to a lot of people.”

Technology remains grounded

The idea has long been out there. Metro Detroit industrial engineer Sanjay Dhall built a prototype of a flying car three years ago.

More: Flying Cars? Local engineer aims to get a fanciful idea off the ground

Still, the technology is no where near ready to — um — take off.

Reuters cited investor website PitchBook as reporting that corporate and private investors have sunk about $2.3 billion into more than 100 aerial vehicle startups. Those include drones and flying electric taxis. But they’re no where close to commercialization or profitability.

If GM does pursue the flying cars, it would join other automakers who are exploring the idea. In January, Hyundai Motor Co. said it had partnered with ride-sharing company Uber to develop electric taxes. Also in January, Toyota Motor Corp. invested $394 million in startup Joby Aviation. Similarly, Daimler AG and Geely Automobile have been invested in Volocopter since late 2019, to name a few.

GM’s continued transformation

GM has said it will achieve zero crashes and zero congestion with self-driving cars from its Cruise division in San Francisco. GM will achieve zero emissions with an all-electric future. GM has promised to bring at least 20 new electric vehicles to market by 2023. 

“We are continuing our transformational way of thinking and operating with a new senior vice president of Innovation and Growth, Alan Wexler, who joined us just a month ago,” Barra said on Monday. “He will focus on identifying future growth opportunities and driving innovation throughout the company. He has a long track record of challenging the status quo to develop new strategies for business growth.”

Wexler and GM’s Vice President of Global Electric Vehicle Programs Pam Fletcher are tasked with exploring electric aerial mobility and “the best opportunities of where we can expand,” Fowle said. 

One of the newer ways GM has transformed is by creating its wholly owned subsidiary GM Defense. In June, the U.S. Army awarded GM Defense a $214.3 million contract to provide a mobile troop carrier, called the Infantry Squad Vehicle (ISV). It is based on the 2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 pickup. 

a vehicle with smoke coming out of it: The U.S. Army awarded GM Defense a $214.3 million contract to provide a mobile troop carrier, called the Infantry Squad Vehicle (ISV) pictured here. It is based on the 2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 pickup.

© GM Defense
The U.S. Army awarded GM Defense a $214.3 million contract to provide a mobile troop carrier, called the Infantry Squad Vehicle (ISV) pictured here. It is based on the 2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 pickup.

The small unit is positioning itself to compete for other contracts that could add billions in revenues to GM’s coffers.

“So short term and long term, we’re putting a lot of thought in how we grow our business in new ways,” Fowle said.

More: GM’s future in military vehicles could mean billions in profit for automaker

More: Trump makes wild claims about revitalizing auto industry at Michigan rally

Contact Jamie L. LaReau at 313-222-2149 or Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Read more on General Motors and sign up for our autos newsletter. Become a subscriber.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: GM’s Barra talks flying cars and transforming the automaker

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