Legacy automaker General Motors, under intense pressure to innovate as the automotive world shifts to electric vehicles, unveiled a Cadillac “personal drone” concept Tuesday along with numerous other EVs across its existing brands and a new business unit, BrightDrop, to sell electric delivery vehicles including vans and pallets.
The design of the Cadillac passenger drone failed to impress eVTOL.com staff, appearing years behind the automaker’s potential competitors in terms of aerodynamics and efficiency. A single-seat quadcopter, the aircraft is intended to signal “a vision of the future where personal air travel is possible,” according to GM, targeting speeds of up to 56 miles per hour (90 kilometers per hour) for rooftop-to-rooftop travel with a 90 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery pack. No other details about the aircraft design were revealed.
Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society, told eVTOL.com the design looks very heavy for a single-seat aircraft — much too heavy for a 90-kWh battery. Its landing gear shows little consideration for landing forces, impact absorption and crashworthiness, he added, and the aircraft’s lower ducts are much too close to the ground with too much surface area around them, which may cause suction instead of thrust.
“It’s a drawing, and not much more,” Hirschberg said. “So, we’re trying to interpret artwork.”
In addition to poor design elements, GM’s decision to opt for a personal flying vehicle — the company’s online exhibit for the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show presents visitors with a QR code to envision the aircraft (and other new EVs) in their driveway — makes little sense, especially combined with the site’s description of vehicle as traveling “rooftop to rooftop.” Given the practical, regulatory and cost hurdles involved with enabling true personal door-to-door flight, most serious eVTOL players have abandoned the concept for a more service-oriented model, with many embracing ride-sharing principles to improve affordability.
The rendering, shown during GM’s keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show, came just after Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced a manufacturing partnership with Archer, an eVTOL developer set to unveil and fly its full-scale, five-seat aircraft this year.
In September, GM CEO Mary Barra signaled interest in aerial mobility as one of many applications for the company’s new Ultium battery system.
“It’s an area we’re really excited about and looking at,” said GM spokesperson Stuart Fowle, declining to elaborate further.
So far, GM’s interest in flying cars appears more in generating hype than in a dedicated design and development effort. Given the resources automakers like Hyundai and Toyota have dedicated to their eVTOL pursuits, it is exciting to see more major players express interest — but if this is any indication of how serious GM is about aerial mobility, it may be best for the automaker to stick to the ground.
“Automotive companies often unveil concepts to indicate that they are looking at certain future technologies, and sometimes concept designs are fantastical to attract more attention,” Hirschberg said. “But this design as shown is a perfect example of the saying, ‘It’s easy to design an aircraft if you don’t know how.'”