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Who killed the flying car? - Walla! vehicle


The mistakes, the lessons and the remaining potential: Meir Arnon, the Israeli investor in Aeromobil, the developer of the flying car from Slovakia, in an interview that is important for every startup to read

Test flight Aeromobil flying car (Aeromobil)

"We did many things right, and also mistakes. There are some decisions we should have made differently, but this is the wisdom of hindsight. What is important is that I have no doubt that the idea of ​​the flying car will come true. It will happen. Who knows, maybe more with Aeromobil," says Meir Arnon, One of the investors and a member of the board of the flying car start-up Aerovil from Slovakia, which announced earlier this month its closure after failing to raise additional funds to complete the tool it developed and enter serial production.

Although it was founded in Slovakia in 2010, the small company managed to gain an international name and reputation, as one of the leading companies in the developing field of urban and personal transportation, which is estimated to generate about 70 billion dollars in a decade.

The announcement of its closure, after it had already introduced the fourth generation of its flying vehicle, and had begun procedures for obtaining a license from the European Aviation Authority, surprised many.

Arnon is one of the most prominent entrepreneurs and investors in the Israeli auto-tech industry, through Focus Capital, the company he founded and which he heads.

Arnon is also one of the founders of the Akmomotion community, which unites the hundreds of Israeli companies in the field, and until recently served as its chairman. Akmomotion was able to bring to its annual conferences the senior executives of the global automotive industry, thanks in large part to his personal relationships with them. Before he founded Focus Capital, he was one of the founders of the company The state-of-the-art", one of the first Israeli high-tech companies to be sold for huge sums to foreign companies, 650 million dollars to BMC in its case, in 1999.

The four-seater model designed by the company

Aeromobil flying car (Photo: Areomobil)

Since Aeromobil was founded in 2010, it has raised 25 million euros, including 6 million euros from the Slovak government, and flown three prototypes.

He joined Aeromobil five years ago and holds 5% of its shares.

"Slovakia, like the Czech Republic, has an excellent infrastructure in the field of automobiles and aviation, and broad government support. I came to the company through friends and decided to join. We built an excellent board, with people like Anthony Sharif, former CEO of the British sports car manufacturer McLaren, Jordan Hansel , former CEO of NetJets, the largest private jet management company in the world."

A flying car is not a new idea.

Another aviation pioneer Curtis Glenn and Henry Ford planned to build such about 100 years ago.

"You can say that Da Vinci's flying machine from the 15th century presents a similar idea. In the end, it's a fascinating product, which combines hardware and software, automobile and aviation. And above all, freedom of movement. And our tool is truly a flying car, one that you can drive from your private parking lot , to travel to a nearby airstrip, and from there to take off for a flight of hundreds of kilometers. People don't always differentiate between a flying car and an eVTOL, an electric vehicle that is more of a large, manned drone, which is limited in its range and speed due to the capacity of the existing batteries."

Your tool was not supposed to be popular, with a price of 1.2-1.5 million dollars.

"We weren't looking for the popular market, but to create a tool for those who have a license for a light aircraft, who are fond of driving and aviation. People who want to enjoy the freedom of movement that he knows how to offer, allowing them to keep their plane in their private parking lot like this. In the US, for example, there is a large market for such tools , it has about 14,000 landing pads for light aircraft, some of them just an unpaved runway with a wind sleeve, from which our craft can also take off.

There are hundreds of them in Texas, Nevada, Colorado and neighboring Canada.

For those who need to travel hundreds of kilometers in these areas, who usually do not have a direct flight from their home area to their destination, and do not want to drive for hours, this is a perfect solution."

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Meir Arnon with Bill Ford, chairman of the Ford company (Photo: Asaf Kliger/Accomotion)

Aeromobil's vehicle was supposed to be a real combination of a car that could drive on a public road at speeds of up to 160 km/h and accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 10 seconds, and once it arrived at an airport able to deploy its wings, complete the configuration change in three minutes, then take off into flight at a speed of 260 km/h. The company's AM4.0 reached a length of 6.1 meters and a width of 2.2 meters, like a large van. Opening the wings turns it into an airplane with a wingspan of 8.8 meters. As a car it was supposed to

be able to travel a distance of 1,000 km without refueling, and as an airplane to cover a range of about 740 km with a pilot and a passenger. It was supposed to need extremely short runways, about 300 meters for takeoff and about 400 meters for landing. The company previously promised to start delivering

tools First for customers in 2018 and then in 2023. It has already started procedures for obtaining a license from the European Aviation Agency. A year ago it announced that in addition to a 2-seater model, it is also developing one with four, called AM NEXT.

For safety purposes, the vehicle was equipped with a ballistic parachute, which could be opened quickly in an emergency, as was done in 2015.

One of the company's founders, Stefan Klein, lost control of the first version of the flying car, opened the parachute at a height of 900 feet and managed to stop the crash.

The vessel was damaged, but Klein got out of it on his feet.

Arnon: "The tool was also very safe and the crash only proved it. It was in the 3.0 model that was not stable enough, a matter that was corrected in the 4.0 model that was already flying. In his experiments there were cases of emergency landings, and with an excellent hover ratio of 1 to 7, the pilot always He could have located a landing pad, landed, fixed the problem, and taken off again."

Test flight of an Aeromobil flying car

"In hindsight we should have decided differently"

So what went wrong?

"All these stories of battles did not help us when we came to raise the financing for the next stage of the company. We started in February 2022, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and during the wave of interest rate increases. At first we asked to raise 80 million dollars. We compromised on 40 million dollars, and we did not succeed either, There is no market for it now. So now we have to close, pay what the workers deserve to be fair with the suppliers. We all said, 'Don't worry, we're with you.'"

Where did you go wrong?

"We didn't deal with fundraising all the time and we didn't foresee the avalanche of the last year. Perhaps we should have also adopted the fundraising style of Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram, who started the company by raising small amounts from many people, and later raised additional amounts from them, until the big investment bodies showed interest in them .

"When I joined the company, I brought in Hyundai, who showed interest in the field. They brought in McKinsey, who did a large and expensive study, and recommended switching to eVTOL vehicles. We thought that it would take another decade for such vehicles to mature, for the batteries to develop and for there to be enough charging, and for regulation to be created, which our field already has Hyundai offered us to take up the project for them, but we preferred to continue with the flying car. It was an opportunity that should have been taken, and I am not without blame. There were four of us on the board and we made a decision. In retrospect, we should have made a different decision."

Did you not receive inquiries from other companies in the automotive field?

"Almost every car manufacturer was with us. We had cooperation with Volvo in the power unit area, they were supposed to supply us with the engine, for example. They understand that there will still be a market for internal combustion engines in all kinds of configurations for many years to come. We had a letter of intent from the Austrian defense, that manufactures cars for Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar, that it will manufacture the tool for us and set up the supply chain. They only wanted us as a customer, but not as partners. They were not ready to take a risk."

What other difficulties did you encounter?

"I wanted to recruit a senior American financier, someone who had already been in the American capital market and recruited. We had several candidates, but everyone said 'we will join after the recruitment'."

So that's it, this dream landed?

"The knowledge remains with us. Maybe in two years it will be possible to try to recruit again."

Fighting the legal revolution

Arnon, who founded several companies in Israel and sold them to foreign companies, continues his other activities today, but recently added another one: he is one of the participants in the demonstrations against the legal revolution initiated by the new Netanyahu government.

"I hear from more and more companies that I work with, including the big and well-known ones, that they are putting their operations in Israel on hold. That they are afraid of the effects of this move, and do not currently want to continue investing here."

Is the move still reversible?

"I have no doubt. I see the mobilization and the number of people taking to the streets. And this is only the beginning. The legal coup will not take place, we will succeed in stopping it and restoring democracy. We were born in a democratic country and we will defend it. I was an officer in Agoz during the Yom Kippur War and after that I did a conversion with my friends for armor, because the IDF lost a lot of armorers in the war and needed new ones.

We have a fighting spirit."

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Source: walla

All tech articles on 2023-02-24

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