Joby Aviation reportedly set to buy Uber Elevate
A lot of things are up in the air, if you'll excuse the pun, when it comes to the emerging eVTOL air taxi market. We don't know who will be first to get an airframe certified, or how many years away that might be. We don't know which designs and powertrains will lead the way, or exactly how people are going use these services.
One thing seemed certain, though; ride-share companies like Uber looked extremely well placed to become the customer face of air taxi operations. Millions of people already have credit cards registered with their apps, for starters, and they deliver a far superior booking service to traditional cabs. They're also uniquely positioned to handle multi-mode trips; a customer could make a single booking, and a car could take them from pickup to a vertiport for an eVTOL ride, and then from the landing vertiport to the final destination. Uber's software team could make such trips nearly seamless.
Uber wanted a piece of the action for sure; its eVTOL white paper was early and influential, and it set about creating an Uber Elevate division to begin planning around infrastructure, certification, air traffic control and other aspects of the business well in advance of any aircraft being ready.
Now, according to an Axios report, it's washing its hands of 3D commuting and selling off the Elevate division. Uber might be a household name, but it's losing money at an extraordinary rate – nearly US$3 billion in Q2 2020 – and CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has been making tough decisions to steer the company towards profitability.
The buyer, according to "multiple sources," is Joby Aviation, which operates out of a rural compound near Santa Cruz. Joby seems one of the most likely companies to get an airframe certified early; it's many years and iterations into its eVTOL development now, and has monstrous financial and manufacturing backing thanks to a recent deal with Toyota. By our count, Joby has more cash behind it than anyone else in the business.
And now, it seems, it's got Uber Elevate. Exactly what that means is unclear. Elevate had about 80 employees, and was running an Uber Air helicopter service in New York before COVID-19 struck. It ran an annual Elevate Summit, and had done some work on airspace management and multi-mode travel software, as well as forging partnerships with eVTOL manufacturers, infrastructure builders and the like.
We wouldn't expect Joby to spill too many beans on the deal; it's a famously secretive group that prefers to operate quietly. Heck, I've been to the Joby compound myself, and am bound under NDA not to share what I saw. So it may be some time before we learn what's in this deal for Joby. But it's certainly an interesting development considering that many folks have been assuming Uber would take a leading role when eVTOLs finally break through into the mainstream.