Flying car prototype not top priority in auto sector

Carmakers, industry experts were amused by the stunning level of optimism set for the plan

By RAHIMI YUNUS / Pic By BERNAMA

Entrepreneur Development Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof’s (picture) revelation that Malaysia would unveil its first flying car prototype this year has sparked much interest from various parties with the more cynical quarters debating the project’s viability.

Many have also described the project as “better suited in science fiction movies rather than in real life”.

Mohd Redzuan said the prototype will be fully driven by local technology, which is already available with a cost slightly over RM1 million to build.

Carmakers and industry experts, contacted by The Malaysian Reserve (TMR), were largely bewildered and amused by the stunning level of optimism set for the plan, citing that it is still “a long way to go”.

“The idea is good, but let’s start with the basics first. We have other priorities in the industry,” one industry source told TMR. The source said the government should prioritise more on attracting global players to invest locally, particularly in the electric and autonomous spaces for Malaysia to accelerate growth.

“Don’t scare investors with national sentiments,” the source said, adding that the country should be more concerned with the fact that it is still lagging in terms of European emission standards, while others have already accessed Euro 4.

Another industry source said with technological needs factored into the project, it would inflate the cost of development exponentially in the range of billions for flying cars compared to normal passenger cars.

“Typical cars can be developed in two to three years, but flying cars easily need 15 years of development with much strenuous testing regimes,” the source told TMR.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had envisioned for Malaysia to have an aircraft manufacturing company during the same time when he created national carmaker Proton Holdings Bhd.

Aircraft parts maker Composite Technology Research Malaysia Sdn Bhd stopped producing Eagle 150B, a two-seater composite light aircraft, in 2005.

Elsewhere, China’s news agency Xinhua reported in September last year that the world’s first practical flying car named the Transition, will be delivered to customers this year with a private ownership cost at around US$400,000 (RM1.63 million).

The Transition, which was developed by Terrafugia Inc, is a two-seat, roadable light sport aircraft that features wings that can fold and unfold between flight and drive modes under one minute.

Founded by five MIT graduates in 2006, the US start-up was bought over by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group in 2017 for an undisclosed value.

Last January, the world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing Co, said it completed the first flight of its autonomous air taxi in Washington. The flight lasted less than a minute.

Other companies betting on flying car concepts, vertical take-off, landing aircraft and drones include Airbus SE, Uber Technologies Inc, Amazon.com Inc, a Slovakian start-up AeroMobil and a Chinese firm EHang.