Flying car by California startup Alef attracts early Tesla investor

Oct 19 (Reuters) – The concept of a flying car is not new – inventors have tried for decades to make wheeled motor vehicles fly, with only limited success.

Alef Aeronautics founder Jim Dukhovny hopes to change that equation. His California-based firm has developed a novel approach to getting terrestrial vehicles into the sky and has attracted at least one prominent venture capitalist.

Alef’s Model A, which has just completed seven years of gestation, looks less like the flying cars in old movies and more like Bruce Willis’ flying taxi from the 1997 film The Fifth Element.

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The unusual appearance — with a body that turns on its side and becomes a wing after takeoff — is just one aspect that Tim Draper, an early investor in Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and SpaceX, whose Draper Associates Fund, dont V has backed Alef with $3 million in seed capital.

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After Draper made a modest initial investment, “I put more (money into it) when I saw that they had developed a small prototype drone that did exactly what they told me to do,” he said in an email. “The design is exceptional. The sides of the car become wings as the plane levels off.”

Based in Santa Clara in the heart of Silicon Valley, Alef designed the Model A — a peppy but relatively conventional-looking electric car — with the ability to take off and land vertically. And of course to fly.

Dukhovny, the CEO of Alef, has never built a car. He is a computer scientist, software designer, sci-fi fan and serial entrepreneur who once ran an online gaming site called Intellectual Casino.

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In an interview, he said the handcrafted Model A is set to sell for $300,000, with production and first deliveries slated for 2025. Incidentally, that price is the same starting price planned for Cadillac’s flagship electric vehicle, the Celestiq, which Cadillac’s parent company General Motors Co (GM.N) says will be available to customers in early 2024.

One feature that sets the Model A apart from previous versions of flying cars is its flight characteristics. Once it lifts off the ground, the cockpit rotates and the carbon fiber body flips on its side and then moves forward, powered by a series of propellers. Most other recent attempts by competitors resemble giant drones – and aren’t able to travel on wheels on the ground.

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“The whole car is the wing,” said Dukhovny.

Alef estimates a range of 200 miles (322 km) and a flight range of 100 miles.

Dukhovny has an even bigger trick up his sleeve for 2030: A proposed Model Z sedan with a 200-mile flight range and 400-mile range — and a projected price of $35,000.

“It’s no more complicated than a Toyota Corolla,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure it’s the same price point.”

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Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit Editing by Matthew Lewis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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