The FAA has just issued its first-ever certification for an e-copter, and it’s already being used by the Air Force to transport personnel more efficiently across sprawling airbases.
The company making it possible wants to introduce a service prices similar to Uber (UBER) over the next several years, but its corporate SPAC parent already trades today.
I want to be clear: This is big picture, high risk and long term; but the numbers do make sense. It’s a great example of “American Ingenuity” and I’m a buyer. Reinvent Technology Partners (RTP) is a SPAC created by LinkedIn co-founder Reed Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus.
On February 24, it announced a $6.6 billion transaction to acquire Joby Aviation, the world’s first Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) manufacturer to receive FAA certification and US Air Force airworthiness.
The company aims to launch commercial service by 2024, operating short-haul flights priced similarly to UberX… with the energy efficiency of a Tesla… while cutting travel time by 75% for the typical 25 mile trip.
Joby will build and operate its own fleet, initially ferrying travelers between airports and large urban centers like Los Angeles and New York.
Joby’s eVTOL is like a giant drone you’d fly in your backyard, with six electric powered motors driving six independent rotors. Lithium batteries provide a 150-mile range, and can be recharged quickly. Each aircraft is designed with a ten year lifespan in mind, operating 12 hours a day with 7 hours of flight time.
Joby engineers will design and manufacture the vehicles, while Joby pilots will operate them, and Joby personnel will manage people moving through Joby-owned transportation hubs.
The approach is monumental in scope, and explains why dozens of mechanical engineers from Toyota have joined dozens of electrical engineers from Intel to build the necessary infrastructure.
Joby bought Uber Elevate last year (Uber’s homegrown helicopter service), and several dozen software engineers are bringing their operational experience as well. Each of these partners is an also an investor, JetBlue (JBLU) included. Curiously, Uber intends to integrate Joby into its app.
The RTP acquisition of Joby provides an infusion of capital which will give Joby total cash on-hand of $2.1 billion, enough to fund development an an initial fleet of 40 vehicles ferrying Bay Area passengers to SFO and/or Los Angeles travelers to LAX.
The company WILL need to raise capital at that point, and it WILL be dilutive. The hope is that excitement will be sufficient to drive shares materially higher in advance of a capital raise. Given what’s at stake, I could also see current partners leading another round, which would probably be well-received.
Critically, Joby believes that individual eVTOLs will be able to generate $2.2M in topline revenue annually, implying a 1.3 year payback. This assumes an average trip cost of about $40 ($3/seat mile and 2.4 of 4 seats filled), which is potentially cheaper than an UberX from Newport Beach to LAX and 3-4 times faster.
Joby projects 963 eVTOLs will generate $2B in revenue by 2026, the first year it should be judged as viable. Granted, these are all Joby’s numbers, but we have to start somewhere.
RTP founders Reed Hoffman and Mark Pincus are fully committed. Their respective lock-ups in this transaction (the amount of time which must pass before they can sell their shares) is five years… many magnitudes longer than the standard 6 month holding period.
Additionally, they have stock options which don’t even vest unless the stock appreciates to $40-50. In other words, they are playing for a moonshot and their interests are aligned with ours.
RTP’s acquisition of Joby will result in a one-for-one stock exchange, where each RTP share will convert into one Joby share, and the transaction is expected to close April-May. No analysts cover Joby currently, but I suspect this will change after the closing.