The First Flying Cars will be Red.
Prof. Moller is 68 years old, and he has been working on designing a feasible flying car for over forty years. Now he seems to have built just the machine for the job. The Moller M400 Skycar. It's metalic red, it has fins, a bubble top, it runs on clean burning ethanol, has 8 wankle rotary jet turbines, cruises at 300 mph, and gets better gas mileage than my 94 Plymouth Sundance. The Skycar takes off and lands vertically, so no need for pesky runways. Just taxi her out of the garage and into the driveway, and off you go into the wild blue yonder. A hundred mile commute in twenty minutes. And the Skycar is designed to be easy to fly. Computer assistance removes the need for sophisticated piloting skills. So why then aren't our freeways miraculously cleared of congestion, why aren't gleeful drivers zooming overhead in shining red tribute to Gernsback?
Two reasons mainly, Money and Rules. Moller has spent every penny trying to get his Skycar off the ground. He bemoans the lack of investors in his flying car. “America has many good things going in terms of creativity but it is unable to finance projects like the Skycar because US capitalists want to finance something that gives returns in six or eight months, maybe even two years, but they are not willing to look 25 years ahead." As is, if you are interested in buying the skycar prototype, the cost is 3.5 million dollars. If you want to get in line for one of the first production vehicles, the price tag drops to a cool million. That's a ways outside the means of the average American commuter.
In addition to financial woes, Professor Moller is neck deep in the rules and regulations of the FAA. The Federal Aviation Administration governs all flight in the US, and there are many hoops one must jump through when designing, building and testing an innovative new air vehicle. The M400 made a tethered test flight in January of 2002. Since then it has taken years of safety testing and talks with the FAA to get beyond that stage. The Skycar has only now been cleared to fly untethered over a specific man made lake in California. Mollers flying car may now fly untethered, but it must still fly through miles of red tape before it will ever see a place in America's skies.
Strapped for cash and frustrated by bureaucracy, the visionary Moller may have found a solution to the skycar's problems. He's moving the operation to China. And China is happy to have him. Bereft of FAA regulations, with hundreds of million of dollars to finance development and manufacturing of the skycar, China may well be the perfect home for the M400. Moller said “America’s FAA has no control in China. Chinese aviation engineers can do anything they want. And of course you don’t do anything in China that doesn’t have military overtones. They’ve been so much more aggressive about wanting to do business with us. In America you cannot penetrate the market because it’s who you know.” Although Europe will be heavily involved in producing the engines for the skycar, the lions share of the manufacturing will happen in china, and it will happen soon. “We are seriously working with China to put the Skycar into production. The Skycar is liable to be in the 2008 Olympics in China.”
It's an unfortunate testament to the state of innovation in the US, when something like the M400 must be transplanted to China to thrive. But America's loss may be the worlds gain. Moller envisions the skycar's price will fall to around $50,000 dollars two years into production, less than the cost of that Porche or Escalade sitting in may upscale driveways. And once real mass production is underway, the price may drop even more. In Mollers own words “I see this as a cheap, civilian product, and if it isn’t it would be a failure as far as I’m concerned”. Chinese company Geely is debuting it's new line of low cost vehicles at the international auto show this year. And they plan to start selling their cars in the US next year. I'm willing to bet that when pushing my shopping cart through Walmart in 2012, I just might encounter a sleek red Chinese made flying machine with a price tag less than that of the average American compact. Screw nationalism... ROAD TRIP!
"Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads." - Doctor Emmet Brown