Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting for an Audi Flying Car

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Few topics anger this writer as much as the so-called “flying car.” Much like the massive airships Popular Mechanics assured us were right around the corner back in the mid 1990s, the flying car seems more like a tech writer’s fever dream than a viable and imminent form of transport.

For starters, they’re mainly just helicopters, though some aircraft would provide “last mile” service to the rider’s final destination using a motor and steerable wheels. The vehicles/aircraft would be autonomous, too. It sounds like a regulatory nightmare awash in red tape.

One company pursuing such a product is Audi, though the automaker recently admitted its dreams aren’t even close to becoming a reality. It’s now paring things back.

Speaking to Roadshow, Audi admitted this week that it’s deploying the drogue chute on its plans for a flying taxi, built with help from aerospace partner Airbus and Italdesign. The automaker stated it is “currently working on a realignment of our urban air mobility activities and [has] not yet made a decision on possible future products.”

Flying car taxis, Audi said, will not become a reality for “a very long time.”

That said, Audi remains committed to the idea, saying the recent pair-up between fellow Volkswagen Group subsidiary Porsche and Boeing could prove beneficial to its own efforts. The company might choose to piggyback on Porsche and Boeing’s development of a flying taxi.

Last year, Audi and its partners released a concept, the Pop.Up Next.

The idea’s current form is modern, but the overall idea of shuttling passengers to, say, downtown New York City from nearby airports is nothing new. New York Airways once flew passengers from JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark to helipads in Manhattan, including one atop the former Pan Am Building. It was there that a Sikorsky rotor blade made prosciutto of five unfortunate souls, cancelling all further landings on the rooftop pad. The airline closed its doors in 1979 following another fatal crash.

Nowadays, the flying taxi vision incorporates a scaled-up drone with enclosed blades and a passenger compartment suspended below it. After touching down on a waiting autonomous, EV vehicle platform, the rotor array would detach, allowing the passenger pod and attached platform to drive to its destination. Other concepts, like the one envisioned by Porsche and Boeing, resemble a tailless airplane with vertical takeoff capability. Electricity would provide the propulsion, and final-mile travel would not be offered. Unlike Audi, the two partners feel a hub-to-hub solution makes the most sense.

Passengers can grab an Uber for that last jaunt to the front door.

Speaking of Uber, Uber Air is a thing, with the money-losing ride-hailing company planning a very helicopter-like electric aircraft to transport people in a similar fashion. Test flights will supposedly get off the ground in the coming year, with commercial service pegged for 2023.

If this all sounds like a mobility solution for the wealthy, you’re not far off. Airline travel, both with lighter-than-air airships and later fixed-wing transport, started off as a plaything of the rich. It was only after aircraft costs fell and passenger capacity rose when an ordinary person could afford to buy an airline ticket. Thank the Douglas DC-3 for opening up that mode of transport for the average Joe.

Yet automakers like Porsche, well-versed in offering transport for the wealthy, aren’t saying such a service is anything but. The automaker calls it another form “premium mobility.”

As we all know, all things mobility are hungrily eyed by automakers eager to find new revenue streams in a cooling auto market. From driverless Chrysler Pacifica fleets to batwing-shaped autonomous air taxis, few mobility solutions of dubious revenue potential are off the table.

[Image: Italdesign, Boeing]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • PeriSoft PeriSoft on Oct 16, 2019

    "the massive airships Popular Mechanics assured us were right around the corner back in the mid 1990s" It's worse than that - spurred by some forum discussion or other, I did a Google Books search of Pop Mech covers, and found proclamations of incipient airship domination roughly every five to ten years from the 1930s until the early 2000s. They just couldn't resist.

  • Thomas Kreutzer Thomas Kreutzer on Oct 16, 2019

    I don't see flying cars as something most Audi customers would buy. How are they going to screech around the neighborhood, flip people the bird and blow stoplights in the sky?

    • See 1 previous
    • Stuki Stuki on Oct 16, 2019

      Are you European? In America, Bimmer drivers are the ones who stereotypically drive like that. While Audi drivers are the "sensible" guys, who want a "German Sports Sedan" with a "well appointed, tasteful interior," without wanting to be associated with the above Bimmer drivers..... But from what I gather, "our" Bimmer guys are "Europe's" Audi guys. While Bimmers are, in Europe and again stereotypically, mainly driven by young minority males; who make money selling drugs, and spend money buying rims.

  • Scott What people want is the Jetson Car sound.This has come up before.
  • Joerg I just bought a Corolla Cross Hybrid SE a few weeks ago, and I regret it. But not for any of the reasons stated so far. It drives well enough for me, gas mileage is great for a car like that, the interior is fine, nothing to complain about for normal daily use. I bought this relatively small SUV thinking it is basically just a smaller version of the RAV4 (the RAV4 felt too big for me, drives like a tank, so I never really considered it). I also considered the AWD Prius, but storage capacity is just too small (my dog would not fit in the small and low cargo space).But there are a few things that I consider critical for me, and that I thought would be a given for any SUV (and therefore did not do my due diligence before the purchase): It can’t use snow chains per the manual, nor any other snow traction devices. Even with AWD, snow chains are sometimes required where I go, or just needed to get out of a stuck situation.The roof rack capacity is only a miniscule 75 lbs, so I can’t really load my roof top box with stuff for bigger trips.Ironically, the European version allows snow chains and roof rack capacity is 165 lbs. Same for the US Prius version. What was Toyota thinking?Lastly, I don’t like that there is no spare tire, but I knew that before the purchase. But it is ridiculous that this space is just filled up with a block of foam. At least it should be made available for additional storage. In hindsight, I should have bought a RAV4. The basic LE Hybrid version would have been just about 1k more.
  • MaintenanceCosts Looks like the best combination of capability, interior comfort, and subtle appearance can be achieved by taking a Laramie (crew cab, short bed, 4x4 of course) and equipping it with the Sport Appearance, Towing Technology, and Level 2 packages as well as a few standalone options. That's my pick.Rebel is too CRUSH THAT CAN BRO and Limited and up are too cowboy Cadillac.
  • Xidex easier to buy a mustang that already sounds like that. love the coyote growl
  • Oberkanone Shaker motor on an EV. No thanks.