Stellantis commits to building eVTOL aircraft

Stellantis makes forward-thinking bet on a different kind of electric future

By John Howell / Thursday, 5 January 2023 / Loading comments

We all know that the chances of perishing in a plane crash are incredibly low. How low? Well, a recent study by Harvard University put the odds at 1 in 11 million. Your chances of dying in a car crash, meanwhile, are 1 in 5000. Now, what’s that got to do with anything? Not a lot, really. We’re just bringing you some good-old facts to chew on. Food for thought, you might say.

In other, completely unrelated news, Stellantis announced today that it’s joining forces with Archer Aviation to build electric aircraft. Think about that for a moment: the combined reliability record of Peugeot, Citroen, Fiat, Jeep and, not forgetting Alfa Romeo, all wrapped up in something that achieves flight? To be clear, that’s another thought for you to ponder; what conclusion you come to is your own business, and nothing to do with PH.   

These aren’t just your typical planes, either. Archer Aviation was founded in 2018, in San Jose, California, with the vision of developing electric vertical take-off and landing planes (eVTOL). The idea is they’ll be used as aerial city taxis – apparently United Airlines has already placed an order for two. By 2030 Archer plans to have 6,000 aircraft in service.

Its production plane is called the Midnight. This is an evolution of Archer’s demonstrator aircraft, the Maker. Midnight uses 12 propellers that can tilt to enable vertical take-off and landings. It has a payload of 1,000 pounds (just under half-a-tonne), which means it can transport up to four passengers plus a pilot quickly between cities. Archer says it can achieve 20 back-to-back flights with a 10-minute booster charge after each touchdown.

Midnight is scheduled to be FAA certified by the end of 2024 and operational by 2025. Its cruising height is approximately 2,000 feet, and, because it’s electric, it emits zero local operating emissions. It is relatively quiet as well – in the region of 1,000-times quieter than a typical helicopter. Stellantis says it has been brought on board to bring ‘advanced manufacturing technology and expertise, experienced personnel and capital to the partnership. This combination is intended to enable the rapid scaling of aircraft production to meet Archer’s commercialisation plans.’

More specifically, Stellantis will help to stand up the factory in Covington, Georgia that Archer will use to begin producing the Midnight next year. On top of that, Stellantis has offered up to $150 million in equity capital for Archer to draw upon at its discretion in 2023 and 2024 – although this is subject to Archer reaching certain business milestones. In the future, Stellantis also intends to increase its shareholding in Archer and become ‘a long-term, cornerstone investor’ in the aviation manufacturer.

Carlos Tavares, Stellantis CEO, said, “We’ve been working closely with Archer for the past two years, and I am continually impressed by their ingenuity and unwavering commitment to deliver. Deepening our partnership with Archer as a strategic investor with plans for growing our shareholding demonstrates how Stellantis is pushing the boundaries to provide sustainable freedom of mobility, from the road to the sky. Supporting Archer with our manufacturing expertise is another example of how Stellantis will lead the way the world moves.”

Here’s the thing. Sony and Honda today released news of its latest car, and like every other prototype these days it seems to offer nothing new or vaguely useful. So whatever you may think about Stellantis and its curious collection of international brands, let’s give it its due. At least it is getting involved in a vision of future mobility that is genuinely innovative, rather than just throwing around some soundbites. Of course, it isn’t alone in investing in the as-yet-unproven idea of airworthy taxis – and people have been tentatively kicking around the concept of flying cars for decades – but as modest punts go, it seems like a decent one. Whether or not it’s a prescient one too, we’ll have to wait to see…

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