Automotive

Published on February 27th, 2019 | by Subhash Nair

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Does a Malaysian Flying Car Company Make Sense? Yes and No

Yesterday, Minister of Entrepreneur Development stated that a Malaysian flying car project would be initiated. As silly as it sounds, flying car projects aren’t as crazy as you’d think. Sure, there were plenty over the last century that never quite took off (ahem), but there are also plenty in development today.

Even the guys who own half of Proton, Geely, own a flying car company called Terrafugia! Uber’s also pretty invested in flying taxis, so there’s obviously two sides to the story. Let’s explore both and come to our own conclusions, shall we?

Why we should take it seriously

As mentioned, plenty of startups and companies are invested in flying car projects. To understand why anyone would throw millions upon millions of dollars at an idea that’s failed for a hundred years, you have to change your mindset. First of all, think about how people must have reacted to the Wright brothers a century ago when they were trying to prove that human flight was possible. There were people who laughed and scoffed at them for dreaming. But eventually, they won and the naysayers lost. It’s as simple as that.

Secondly, think about what happened AFTER they proved that it was possible. A multi-trillion dollar industry was born. Could any of us have imagined just how affordable and viable flight has become for just most people alive today? No. And who are the winners in all of this? The airline companies, the plane manufacturers. They’re all settled into healthy oligopolies.

So, imagine then what a flying car industry could offer. Uber, Audi and a number of other brands are convinced that congestion in big cities has reached a critical point. Think about how many hours it can take to get out of the airport in a busy city like Jakarta during peak hours. In the same vein, think about how difficult it is to reach rural parts of Malaysia by car. If a flying car can be demonstrably proved to operate safely, sooner or later big businesses will use flying cars to reach the underdeveloped parts of the world. They’ll be cheaper to operate than helicopters, and presumably, run on batteries for lower maintenance cost. They may also operate on fixed flight paths, making them unlikely to collide with one another.

That in mind, shouldn’t we be spending money on a Malaysian Flying Car? Malaysians have always been sceptical about adopting new technology. We’re comfortable enough as it is, so imaginary or intangible problems are not worth looking into. No one can blame us for being late comers to the automotive industry. That began way before our independance and infrastructure could be set up. We were a little late to the electronics wave, and then to the smartphone wave. Startups like Grab were quick enough to have a significant impact on the tech-linked transportation wave. Maybe if we start on the flying car project immediately, we can be one of the major players that dictate the course of this technology?

Why it’s a waste of money and time

Having said all that, there are many reasons I think a Malaysian flying car project would be a flop.

First of all, 1 million ringgit for a prototype sounds way too low and short-sighted. Even if the project does prove a success, will it be comprehensive enough for a business to want it? There are all kinds of aspects linked to flying car projects. They need to integrate technology from ride hailing, drones, autonomous flying/driving into one package. Consider the fact that Uber is pouring 20 million euros into their own flying car project. 1 million ringgit may not be enough to get very far off the ground.

Also, consider how far ahead some of these other companies have gotten. If we’re starting now, by the time we have our prototype ready, the rest of the world may already have their flying cars in production.

Conclusion

That being said, I do think there is one potential avenue for a Malaysian flying car. That is if Grab sees it as a viable long-term project. They already have a near monopoly on ride-hailing across the region. They have a proven track record and would benefit greatly from directly owning and developing technology like this. Simply throwing it out there as a sort of headless hero project sounds like a good way to lose 1 million ringgit in the accounts books. Put it in the hands of a proven transport-tech company and you may see results. But even if they don’t want to touch it, then best forget about it.


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