By Kim Hyun-bin
Hyundai Motor Group and Hanwha Group are focusing on urban air mobility (UAM) as one of their key future growth engines, with the aim of entering the air taxi industry and even the military market.
Hanwha Systems is cooperating with global companies to commercialize its air taxi business. The company is in partnership with Overair, in which it bought a 30 percent stake in 2020.
Hanwha Systems and Overair are collaborating to develop an air taxi version of the Butterfly, its vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. It initially developed a military-purpose Butterfly. The aircraft’s maximum speed is 320 kilometers per hour.
“Hanwha Systems plans to create synergy with other defense-related affiliates of the group in the future, and we aim to create 11.4 trillion won from the UAM ecosystem by 2030,” a Hanwha Systems official said.
Hanwha Systems aims to develop the air taxi by 2024 and have trial runs for it in 2025.
However, Hanwha’s five-seater UAM has an expected price tag of 2 billion won ($1.78 million), which could hinder its price competitiveness against global rivals.
“Currently, there are other firms already developing two-seater UAMs for a fraction of the price ― between 300 million won and 400 million won,” an industry source said. “Without Hanwha drastically dropping the price, it will be difficult to stay competitive in the civilian UAM market.”
Hanwha responded that its technology will be superior to any UAMs out in the market, and that the current UAMs in operation “are considered large drones,” while the products in development are “more similar to aircrafts that are fully electric or using hybrid and fuel-cell technology.”
Hyundai and Hanwha’s UAM strategies are similar, but have specific differences. Hyundai Motor plans to do everything related to its UAM development ― from the blueprint to the commercialization stage ― in-house, and has been hiring experts in the field recently.
The country’s leading carmaker plans to develop hardware, software and fuel cell powertrain batteries and provide related maintenance and other services.
“The future UAM market will need from tens of thousands, to hundreds of thousands of vehicles,” Hyundai Motor CEO Lee Won-hee said during an investor day event last July. “Through Hyundai’s manufacturing competitiveness and knowhow in fuel cell technology, the automation sector will create high-quality vehicles that are cost-efficient to mass-produce.”
The company aims to unveil an unmanned aerial system (UAS) for cargo by 2026, as well as operate an automated UAM model in the downtown area by 2028, and an intercity UAM by 2030.
The industry itself looks promising, with Morgan Stanley predicting that the global UAM market will exceed $1.5 trillion by 2040.
For the idea to become realized, there needs to be a UAM ecosystem, equipped with related infrastructure and services, which Hyundai and Hanwha both want to be the first to establish locally. Both companies are focusing on developing and fully commercializing their products within the next 10 years.