Shenanigans: Toyota's 'Flying Car' Doesn't Fly and Isn't a Car

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

We need to have a candid discussion about flying cars. Automobiles and airplanes entered into the mainstream around the same time, and we’ve talked about combining them into a singular platform ever since. While nobody has successfully pulled it off, we keep acting like the technology is right around the corner. The closest we’ve gotten are the Terrafugia Transition and Pal-V One. However, both of those products make major on-road sacrifices, undergo a pre-flight metamorphosis, and require regular access to a runway. They’re still not representative of anything we’d consider a real car.

Lack of success hasn’t stopped automakers from dabbling in the field of aviation. Toyota has purchased Cartivator Resource Management in the hopes that its “flying car” expertise will yield a vehicle capable of lighting the torch at the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo. Still, based on the firm’s progress to date, we can only imagine the attempt ending in a globally broadcast fiery disaster.

Cartivator’s current project essentially involves aluminum scaffolding attached to eight propellers. It’s an uncooperative and suicidal drone that manages to hover a few feet off the ground before immediately crashing to the pavement — and the company wants someone to pilot it above a flaming cauldron in just a few years.

Toyota has invested 42.5 million yen ($386,000) into the startup for work on its “Sky Drive,” and Cartivator hopes the investment will provide the means to move the project along. The team’s lead, Tsubasa Nakamura, told The Associated Press the company wants to provide a vehicle offering seamless transition between driving and flight, à la “Back to the Future.”

“I always loved planes and cars. And my longtime dream was to have a personal vehicle that can fly and go many places,” said Nakamura.

While the company looks to have an incredibly long way to go before Sky Drive goes anywhere, vertical takeoff would set it apart from literally every other “flying car” milling around in development hell. But it doesn’t currently have wheels, a roof, or a seat for the exceedingly brave pilot this giant quadcopter is supposed to cart around.

Even if it could be made safe, Cartivator’s ultimate goal for the project wouldn’t result in something you’d ever be able to call a car. Members of the Sky Drive team have suggested the vehicle should one day be capable of flight, with a maximum ceiling of around 30 feet.

Automakers, please stop calling these objects flying cars. Media outlets, please stop acting like this technology is anywhere near mainstream acceptance. What we have now are roadworthy aircraft and that’s likely all we’ll see for the foreseeable future. Regulators would never allow for deafeningly loud, open-prop vehicles capable of three-dimensional mobility and the autonomous technology needed to make them safe doesn’t exist.

Re-categorize them as mobility solutions, single-occupant flight systems, or whatever the hell else you want to call them. But please stop referring to them as “flying cars” because we’re calling shenanigans.

[Image: Cartivator Resource Management]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • MidLifeCelica MidLifeCelica on Jun 06, 2017

    Why does this thing not have auto-hover or some kind of stabilization software running? Model helicopters have it, drones have it...heck, I used to write this kind of real-time feedback-response hardware control code myself back in the dawn of of computing. If I could do it with a 6502 processor and 48K of RAM then anyone can do it. All engineers, no coders?

  • LazyJK LazyJK on Jun 10, 2017

    THIS is what $ 390k gets you? F**k off...

  • Ronin Let's see the actuals first, then we can decide using science.What has been the effect of auto pollution levels since the 70s when pollution control devices were first introduced? Since the 80s when they were increased?How much has auto pollution specifically been reduced since the introduction of hybrid vehicles? Of e-vehicles?We should well be able to measure the benefits by now, by category of engine. We shouldn't have to continue to just guess the benefits. And if we can't specifically and in detail measure the benefits by now, it should make a rational person wonder if there really are any real world benefits.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Simply put, I like it.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Ah GM, never stop being you. GM is working hard to make FIAT look good.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Top Gear of the 2000's was a fresh concept and very well done. Sadly to say there isn't a TV show concept that doesn't eventually exhaust fresh ideas and, as a result, begins to rehash and wear out once were fresh ideas. The show eventually becomes a pale imitation of itself, then begins to embarrass itself, it will get to a point where it jumps the shark. Top Gear began to get stale, the Clarkson, Hammond and May left and the formula failed - surprise! the presenters were part of the magic. Fast forward many years and Grand Tower is trying hard to be Top Gear but it's all very obviously scripted (it always was by felt spontaneous in its original form), Clarkson, Hammond and May are much older, tired and have become caricatures of themselves. Guys, just stop. You should have stopped 10 years ago. Now you're just screwing with your reputations and legacies.
  • FreedMike Kudos to Toyota for making a legitimately slick looking piece (particularly in metallic cherry red). But PHEVs seem like a very narrow niche to me. Yes, the concept is cool - if you play your cards right you never have to fill up with gas, and the gas engine means you don't have to worry about charging facilities - but the operative words are "if you play your cards right." And PHEVs have all the drawbacks of EVs - spotty charging availability, decreased range in cold conditions, and higher price. Personally, I'd opt for a non plug-in Prius and use the plug-in money to upgrade the trim level. It's slower, but even the base Prius performs roughly on par with a Corolla or Civic, so it's not a dog anymore. But who buys a Prius to go fast in the first place? If I wanted to "go gas free," I'd just buy a BEV. YMMV, of course.