California startup Alef’s flying car attracts early Tesla investor

Oct. 19 (Reuters) – The concept of a flying car isn’t new — inventors have been trying to add wings to wheeled motor vehicles for decades, with only limited success.

Jim Dukhovny, founder of Alef Aeronautics, hopes to change that equation. His California-based company has come up with a new approach to getting terrestrial vehicles into the air and has attracted at least one prominent venture capitalist.

Just coming out of a seven-year gestation, Alef’s Model A is less like the flying cars in old movies and more like Bruce Willis’ flying taxi in the 1997 movie “The Fifth Element.”

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Its unusual appearance — with a body that flips on its side to become the wing after launch — is just one aspect that attracted Tim Draper, an early investor in Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and SpaceX whose Draper Associates Fund V. backed Alef with $3 million in seed money.

After Draper made a modest initial investment, “I put in more (money) when I saw that they had made a small drone prototype that did exactly what they told me it would,” he said in an email. “The design is extraordinary. The sides of the car become the wings when the plane goes horizontal.”

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

Dukhovny, the CEO of Alef, has never built a car until now. He is a computer scientist, software designer, science fiction fanatic and serial entrepreneur who once ran an online gaming site called Intellectual Casino.

In an interview, he said the hand-built Model A is designed to sell for $300,000, with production and first deliveries scheduled for 2025. By the way, that price tag is the same starting price planned for the Cadillac brand’s flagship electric vehicle. , the Celestiq, which should arrive for customers in early 2024, according to Cadillac parent company General Motors Co (GM.N).

One feature that sets the Model A apart from previous versions of flying cars is how it flies. Once it lifts off the ground, the cockpit pivots and the carbon fiber body flips on its side before moving forward, powered by a series of propellers. Most of the other recent attempts by competitors resemble giant drones – and are incapable of traveling on wheels on the ground.

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

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

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

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

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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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