Is eVTOL sector about to take off?

Chloe Liao, Taipei; Vyra Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: Hyundai

At CES 2024, Hyundai Motor made a resounding entry into the burgeoning aerial vehicle market with the unveiling of its cutting-edge Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Against the backdrop of CES 2024's strategic focus on the potential advancements in Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) solutions and the continued prominence of electric vehicles (EVs), particularly in land and sea domains, the spotlight has been turned to whether the eVTOL industry is poised for a transformative takeoff.

Supernal, Hyundai's subsidiary, showcased the physical prototype of the "S-A2" eVTOL at CES 2024. Distinguished by Hyundai's proprietary solid-state battery technology and featuring an innovative configuration of eight rotors—four for vertical takeoff and landing, and the remaining four for horizontal flight—the S-A2 promises heightened efficiency. Hyundai underscored the quieter flight experience of the S-A2, likening its noise levels to that of a household dishwasher. The ambitious plan is to have the S-A2 operational by 2028, with flight tests potentially commencing as early as the conclusion of 2024.

In an era where eVTOLs, unencumbered by traditional runways and boasting streamlined components, present an opportunity for reduced operational costs in comparison to conventional aircraft, industry insiders are deliberating whether the eVTOL business is on the cusp of a transformative ascent. Flight cost analyses indicate that, for instance, helicopters incur approximately US$150 for every 15 minutes of flight, aligning closely with the operational costs of eVTOLs and EVs.

While the eVTOL arena is predominantly dominated by US entities, including major players like Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation with backing from notable investors such as Uber, Toyota, and Intel, Taiwanese companies are cautiously navigating their entry. Molicel, a subsidiary of Taiwan Cement, has notably secured battery orders from Vertical Aerospace and Archer Aviation. Despite a limited Taiwanese footprint currently, companies with established roles in the EV supply chain are strategically positioned to contribute significantly to the evolving eVTOL landscape.

The eVTOL narrative, often labeled as "flying taxis," aligns structurally with drones, emphasizing safety standards that surpass typical drone considerations. The multifaceted eVTOL supply chain comprises core subsystems, encompassing batteries, power systems, flight controls, communications, navigation, and mechanical components—a landscape mirroring the intricate dynamics of drone technology.

Within the battery realm, advancements are expected to play a pivotal role in elevating eVTOL efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and payload capacity. In the power system domain, motors are identified as crucial, with specialized eVTOL products already undergoing certification by industry leaders like PIPISTREL, Safran, and MagniX.

Considering the airframe, the challenge arises from the larger dimensions of eVTOLs, making it a domain where consumer or industrial drone manufacturers may find it challenging to compete. Aerospace suppliers are anticipated to take precedence in this sector, but industry experts note that both consumer and industrial drone manufacturers, as well as automotive body manufacturers, possess the technical acumen to venture into this arena.

AIDC, Taiwan's aerospace leader, has emphasized the need for local players to explore opportunities in the emerging urban air mobility (UAM) sector, particularly within the eVTOL realm. As Taiwan's aerospace firms eye potential contributions to the supply chain, there is a growing call for the government to proactively craft regulations for the evolving landscape of aerial mobility.

In conclusion, Taiwan, with its proven track record in both automotive and aerospace supply chains, stands poised to make substantial contributions to the dynamic eVTOL industry. As competition intensifies and the momentum toward vehicle electrification prevails, Taiwanese companies have a compelling opportunity to carve out a significant niche in this transformative market.

In Taiwan's manufacturing landscape, the competition intensifies notably in the aircraft sector. Leading the charge in aircraft structural expertise are prominent entities such as AIDC, EVA Airways, Chenfull International, Drewloong Technologies, and Magnate Technology. These companies count aerospace giants Boeing, Airbus, and Bombardier among their discerning clientele. As the burgeoning field of eVTOL garners attention, stakeholders from various industries are recognizing the future potential of AAM solutions. Currently, the automotive and aviation sectors are spearheading these advancements. Regardless of the competitive dynamics at play, Taiwanese manufacturers are poised to secure a significant foothold amidst the overarching trend toward electrification in vehicle technology.