Sohu Auto: When did you intend to create a flying car? And what was the reason for doing that?
Carl Dietrich: I have dreamed about flying cars since I was a child, but I only became serious about the idea in 2004 – when regulatory change in the United States made the business practical. My goal with the flying car is to make personal aviation a useful part of everyday life for everyone.
Sohu Auto:Could you briefly tell us the R&D process of making the first flying car? And what were the difficulties during that developing chain?
Carl Dietrich: The Transition® has been in development for almost a decade. There are many challenges – most of them related to ensuring that the design meets aviation regulatory standards, automotive standards, and customer requirements simultaneously. Many changes and improvements have been required throughout the development process to ensure compliance with all of the requirements.
Sohu Auto: “Flying car is more like a plane than a car”. Do you agree with this opinion? And how do you define the flying car?
Carl Dietrich: The Transition® is much more of an airplane than a car, but it is safe and legal to drive on the road like a car when it is not practical to fly (to get to and from the airport, and to travel when the weather would otherwise prevent safe flight). In general, most people define a flying car as a vehicle that is capable of both flying and driving.
Sohu Auto:Now your second generation production TF-X™ is under the R&D process. We know that it’s a plug-in hybrid electric flying car with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, but we don’t know when it will be on the real market and its specific planning. Could you give us a short introduction about it?
Carl Dietrich: TF-X™ is a computer controlled Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) flying car that can be operated safely by a non-pilot with much less training than what is required to become a pilot. It can fly at over 200 mph and land in an area the size of a tennis court. TF-X™ has the potential to disrupt the automotive industry. Much of the technology to make TF-X™ already exists, but it must be integrated into one package and certified before it can be sold to the public. We have estimated that this process could take between 8 and 12 years – it will depend on how quickly the FAA adopts new standards for unmanned aircraft and other new enabling technologies.
Sohu Auto:Could you tell us the price of your flying car? And what is the basic cost of its usage and maintenance?
The Transition® is literally a driving billboard for itself. It receives an immense amount of attention in the media, and it is an invited guest to many trade shows that would otherwise charge very large fees because promoters know that it will draw a crowd. Consequently, very little investment in promotion is required compared to other more mature industries because the novelty factor is so high. Once the novelty wears off, a more substantial marketing investment will be required. Transition® customers span a wide range of demographics from regional sales people, to real estate developers, to retired couples who want a recreational vehicle and were promised a flying car when they were children – now they can have one. TF-X™ has a much larger mass market potential – reaching families and daily commuters.
Sohu Auto: Could you disclose the pre-orders of your flying car? In your plan, how many flying cars you should sell in a year? Or do you already have a long-term planning to guarantee the profit?
Carl Dietrich: Terrafugia has a $30 million order backlog. The market for Transition® is in the hundreds of units per year, and the market for TF-X™ will be tens of thousands of units per year. Our business plan is robust to significant fluctuations in the rate of demand ramp up.
Sohu Auto:Right now, what is max capacity of your factory? Can it satisfy the practical needs or not?
Carl Dietrich: Terrafugia has both a significant head start on the competition (allowing significant first-to-market advantage), and good intellectual property that will prevent copycat designs from taking significant market share. Our long term strategy is to out-innovate the competition to stay ahead. That is the only sustainable strategy in the modern economy. The key to that strategy is the outstanding team that Terrafugia has assembled.
Sohu Auto: It is reported that you visited China twice within three months this year. Does it mean you plan to enter the Chinese market to promote the flying car? Or you have other cooperative plans to develop commercial opportunities in China?
Carl Dietrich: We are very interested in seeing how the Chinese market for personal aircraft develops in the coming years. We want to find the best partners who can help us mutually benefit from that growing market.
Sohu Auto: According to the media report, it is said that you want to set up a factory in China to further develop your production. If it is true, which cities will be the first choice? Do you have a preliminary idea?
Carl Dietrich: We are open to the idea of having some level of production in China, but no commitments have been made at this time.
Sohu Auto:In China, what obstacles do you think would be the hardest to be dealt with in promoting flying cars?
Carl Dietrich: Promotion to consumers is easy. Working through the necessary regulatory channels will require the most effort. We expect to set the necessary precedent in the US, then use those precedents to help Chinese regulators gain comfort with our vehicles.
About Future Vehicle
Sohu Auto: In your blueprint, what kind of cars will be called “Future Vehicles”?
Carl Dietrich: TF- X™ is a future vehicle.
Sohu Auto: Besides the flying car, do you have any plan to involve in automobile industry, such as New energy vehicles, Telematics or other fields?
Sohu Auto:With the development of Internet, what changes do you expect to come up in automobile industry?
Carl Dietrich: Vehicles will continue to become more and more connected and sophisticated. Operators will eventually be able to communicate with anyone while they are driving or flying, and safety will be assured by a distributed control system architecture – similar to the internet itself.
Sohu Auto: As for the flying car, do you think there will be some breakthroughs with new technologies or concept of design? Could driverless or green energy flying car become true?
Carl Dietrich: TF-X™ has the potential to be a huge breakthrough for the flying car. It is a semi-autonomous vehicle and can be plugged in to run off of solar power – so in many ways, it IS the breakthrough implied by your question.
About Mr. Carl Dietrich
Sohu Auto:How do you describe yourself with three words? And why?
Carl Dietrich: Engineer, Builder, Entrepreneur. I like to design and build things that help people get more out of life – in order to make sure those inventions have the desired impact, I’ve become an entrepreneur.
Sohu Auto: Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, now is described as a Silicon Valley geek all around the world. What is your opinion about that? Because in our point of view, you are also a pioneer stands for the Silicon Valley.
Sohu Auto: During the free time, what do you like to do? Are there any links with your job?
Carl Dietrich: I read about alternative concepts for nuclear fusion and other technology areas that don’t get sufficient support and attention from people who can make a difference. My Ph.D. was in one particular area of nuclear fusion, and now that former career interest is my hobby (along with more traditional hobbies like playing tennis, watching movies, and flying small airplanes). My former hobby is now my career…