The Transition flying car from Woburn, Mass.-based Terrafugia stretched its wings for the first time at a motor show at the New York International Auto Show 2012, but its automotive press debut on Thursday suffered some turbulence in the air and bumps in the road.
The Terrafugia Transition flying car has a propeller at its back to push it through the air, and the same motor that powers it can drive the back wheels, so that it can drive on the road. Its wings fold in and out for driving or flying.
The Transition can drive home on any road or surface, Anna Mracek Dietrich, COO of Terrafugia said.
And being able to drive home is the whole point of the Transition. By removing obstacles from the path of consumers wanting to enter general aviation, like needing transportation to and from the airport once they have landed, Terrafugia hopes the Transition will really take off as a transportation solution.
The term flying car, though, seems to be one that the company might prefer to avoid. Don't think of it as a flying car, but an airplane that drives, Mracek Dietrich said.
The aviation (as opposed to automotive) roots of the Terrafugia were impossible to miss at the New York International Auto Show. With wings extended, the Transition looks just like a small, two-seater airplane, and its double tail unmistakably marks it as primarily a vehicle for flight, even when the wings are folded.
Terrafugia really got its roots in the aviation world, Terrafugia CEO Carl Dietrich said.
Terrafugia's aim is to remove weather interference as an obstacle for light aircraft travel, because the biggest barrier for small airplane pilots is weather sensitivity, Carl Dietrich said. Since it can be driven as well, the Transition will be less dependent on the whims of the weather.
You can get where you want to go, no matter what, Carl Dietrich said of the Transition.
Pilots flying the Transition will be able to use more than 5,000 public access airports in the United States.
Storm clouds might be gathering for Terrafugia as it gets closer to bringing the Transition to market. The Transition will cost $279,000, and Terrafugia could face stiff competition from Dutch flying-car company PAL-V, which also recently completed test flights of its vehicle, the PAL-V. While the PAL-V will probably cost a similar amount, first appearances make it seem somewhat more roadworthy than the Transition, as it is a gyrocopter and does not have a long tail.
When asked about potential competition between the PAL-V and the Transition, Anna Mracek Dietrich said that it was like if you asked Audi if Harley-Davidson was competition.
The biggest difference between the two vehicles from a practical standpoint is that the Transition has two seats, which could be a distinct advantage. Terrafugia has approximately 100 deposits for the Transition.
Of greater difficulty for Terrafugia in the runup to delivery of the first Transitions is that insurance plans are not yet available for the flying car.
We know we need an insurance program for our customers ... but it's premature to announce an insurance program, a spokesman for the company said.
Terrafugia is working with insurance companies to devise a plan for the flying car, but it may ultimately require two plans, automotive and aeronautic, to cover the Transition.
Until the maker finds an insurance solution, the Transition may just keep taxiing on the runway.