By on November 15, 2018

Image: GM

General Motors’ vice president of global strategy, Mike Abelson, recently confessed to the Detroit Free Press that the automaker has spoken with “air taxi” companies about using the carmaker’s autonomous and electric vehicle technology to produce flying cars.

“There will be some sort of air transport that will get integrated with this AV/EV technology,” Abelson said during Financial Times’ Future of the Car Summit in Detroit.

Not being ones for the fantastical, we were immediately dismissive of any air taxi service occurring any time soon. However, the real takeaway from the interview wasn’t that GM wanted to build flying cars — it was that the brand doesn’t seem to have much faith in widespread EV adoption. From the sound of things, General Motors thinks flying cars have more market potential than an electric pickup truck. 

Abelson said flying cars becoming commonplace was probably still “some years away,” but noted Detroit industrial engineer Sanjay Dhall has already built a prototype. When asked about the potential inclusion of an battery electric pickup, he was pretty clear on the matter. “The core business is going to be the core business for a couple of decades to come,” he explained. “There will not be any AV/EV pickups.”

Twenty years away might as well be an eternity for an automaker. It’s too hard to guess where you’ll be by then, so it’s surprising Abelson even has an opinion on electrified pickups being built before 2040. Considering GM intends to roll out 20 new all-electric vehicles over the next five years, it might have well suggest that an e-pickup could be part of the next batch.

“EV adoption isn’t optional, it’s mandatory,” Abelson said. “The rest of the world is moving aggressively toward EVs.” The global strategy head noted that GM has asked the federal government for one national gas mileage standard after supporting the fuel economy rollback, and supports measures that would require a percentage of auto companies’ sales be zero-emissions vehicles. With that being the case, why is there no room for an electric truck in the corporate stable?

General Motors hopes to surpass Tesla, which is expected to build an electrified pickup someday, as the world’s leading EV manufacturer within the next decade. But GM seems more interested in offering high-tech vehicles as a service, rather than utilize them for consumer sale. Perhaps an electric pickup truck doesn’t have a place within a services-based business. However, if the automaker intends to keep leaning on its “core business” of truck sales, it seems curious that it would be so dismissive of alternative powertrains. We’ll admit that demand for such a vehicle would likely be rather low if it were manufactured today.

It’s a small detail to harp on, but it creates a lot of question as to what General Motors’ long-term goals are. A zero-emissions pickup for the consumer market is basically out of the question but it’ll happily deploy flying, autonomous taxis the second it can work out the bugs? Is the plan to just continue selling the most profitable models unchanged while it works on how to turn a buck as a services-based mobility company?

Maybe it’s just that automakers can’t admit that flying cars are ridiculous. There are a bunch of companies that have at least a small fraction of their money roped into developing the technology, usually in cooperation with some startup. All of their proposals seem comically fantastical and would require years of overcoming regulatory hurdles as the government attempted to decide how to manage the mainstreaming of automotive flight. Yet every presentation we’ve seen treats the matter as if it were completely reasonable to expect the technology within a few years.

[Image: General Motors]

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17 Comments on “General Motors More Interested in Flying Taxis than Electric Pickups...”

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    Hmmm, I would think given current EV capabilities and price points, there’d be an emerging niche already for a small EV pickup with, say 150 miles of range. I’m thinking as a farm vehicle, or for businesses and government agencies that do work around town.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, I think something like this could have a decent market assuming it isn’t horribly expensive. Especially if it had a range extender as an option for occasional trips beyond the truck’s range. Half my family farms and something like this would save a lot of fuel (a major expense for them). Contractors would be another market.

  • avatar

    Flying EV cars – several thousand pounds of batteries to meet EPA emission requirements, several thousand pounds of high strength steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber to withstand 100 mph impact that the DOT and insurance industry will mandate, hack-proof/mistake-proof/weather-proof fully autonomous autopilot with backdoor so FBI/CIA/police can monitor your activities and make sure you are doing nothing illegal. No doubt coming very soon to a GM dealer near you, with easy financing available.

    • 0 avatar

      Electric aircraft are a thing ya know, although I don’t see Doc Brown’s flying Delorean happening anytime soon.

      • 0 avatar

        Electric airplanes are limited to perhaps a half hour range currently. This is all due to the poor energy density of batteries compared with liquid fuels. Also, FAA rules require an airplane to have 30-45 minutes of reserve fuel past the intended destination in case the destination airport is weathered in or otherwise not available.

        Power/Energy to weight is far more important in an aircraft compared to a land or water vehicle; hence the lack of any steam powered aircraft. Every 175 lbs of battery means one less paying passenger.

        • 0 avatar

          Nice post.

          “Every 175 lbs of battery means one less paying passenger.”

          I’d be interested to know the cost of operation per flight hour vs conventional. I imagine it would be dramatically less.

          • 0 avatar

            Kind of like a pogo stick vs an airplane…. The pogo stick is cheaper per flight hour. Just not all that useful, for what most people use aircraft for.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, this idea is really impractical on a basic level, and it would probably make a lot more sense for it to be developed by a company that has some recent experience in building things that fly, and maybe it is the dumbest idea I have heard all day, but other than that, what do you have against it?

  • avatar

    researchers working on a better brand of bacon have stumbled upon a new breed of pig, one that flies.

  • avatar

    Poor old “get off my lawn” types; the world just isn’t going their way. But who knows – maybe Conestoga wagons shall rise agin!

  • avatar

    Wow, and Ford gets grief for their electric plans. Wow what is going on with this company? Wooof.

  • avatar

    After reading this post I had to think about what month we are in.
    So this isn’t an April Fools joke?

  • avatar

    I think you’re all missing the point. Abelson stated: “There will be some sort of air transport that will get integrated with this AV/EV technology,” He said nothing about “flying cars”. If I could get a vehicle to autonomously fly from me home to (near) work and avoid the typical horrendous commute, that would be very valuable to me.
    And it is the autonomous operation that is the key element. The biggest problem with everyone having flying cars is that everyone would be careening all over the sky. People have enough trouble behaving when they just have four lanes to choose from. The number of mid-air collisions would be tremendous.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s so much space in the air, that avoiding collisions is not a big problem at all. You’d need some rules-of-the-sky and right-of-ways, but it’s like driving buggies in the desert.

      Air and autonomous makes sense only because there are so few people piloting aircraft. So you get a chance to build a “roadnet” from scratch, devoid of people altogether. Which is what is required for autonomous to work anywhere. People and AIs will “never” reasonably coexist on roadways. No matter what guys selling empty promises to starry eyed “investors” may (pretend to) believe.

      Autonomous in the air will actually work. It’s just kind of expensive and inefficient. Lifting off to fly a mile, always is, compared to taking a train. Which is the other venue where autonomous make sense. Again, because the bots don’t have to deal with people sharing the same transportation network.

      Air requires less upfront investment, though. And, for the people making the decision, costs aren’t that big a deal, as they can just get others to pay for their ride, via taxes and money printing, anyway. Who cares if the little people can’t afford to get anywhere? They’re supposed to be chained to their desks anyway.

      What matters is making it more convenient for Trump and Bloomberg to get back and forth to the whorehouse. And handing out “air spectrum” for the exclusive use of a mode of transportation only Trump and Bloomberg can afford to use, accomplishes that in spades. The mom and sisters of the poor schmuck “trespassing” by folding a paper plane, can then work the fine, and of course ambulance chaser fees, off at said whorehouse.

  • avatar

    change the marketing and the cars will fly, off the lot as sales soar.

  • avatar

    Need an electric drive truck, not a BEV truck.

    Stop turning the wheels with the ICE.

    2L motor generator running HCCI at rev limited 1600 – 2000.

    400hp/400lbs electric motor turning the wheels.

    Put in just enough battery for buffer.

  • avatar

    Ford: We have no idea what we’re doing and have dumb ideas.
    GM: Hold my drink.

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