JoeBen Bevirt first thought about building an airplane that could take off and land like a helicopter in second grade while trudging up the seven km road to his family’s home in an off-grid hippie settlement among the redwoods in Northern California. “It was a lonnnnng hill,” Bevirt says, laughing. “It made me dream about a better way.”
Four decades later, Bevirt is closing in on that goal. On a ranch outside Santa Cruz, California, the surfing magnet near where he grew up, Bevirt has secretively developed an electric airplane with six tilting propellers that he says can carry a pilot and four passengers almost 400 km at up to 320 km/h, while being quiet enough to disappear among the hum of city life. He envisions the as-yet-unnamed aircraft, which experts speculate could cost $400,000 to $1.5 million to manufacture, as the foundation for a massive rooftop-to-rooftop air-taxi network—one he plans to build and run himself. His aspiration is to free urbanites from snarled roads and save a billion people an hour a day at a cost (he hopes) on par with booking an UberX, or about $1.60 per km.
It sounds crazy, but Bevirt, 47, has some powerful believers. Toyota pumped roughly $400 million into his Joby Aviation in January, joining investors, including Laurene Powell Jobs and JeffSkoll’s Capricorn Investment Group, which was also an early Tesla backer. In all, Joby has raised $745 million, most recently at a valuation of $2.6 billion. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda told Bevirt he hopes, through Joby, to realize the flying-car dreams of his grandfather Kiichiro, Toyota Motors’ founder, who developed aircraft before World War II.
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