Automakers show off flying cars in Shanghai — but Warren Buffett-backed BYD stays clear

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BYDLess than half a year since revealing a flying vehicle prototype, Chinese electric car start-up Xpeng unveiled a second model at the Shanghai auto show in April 2021.Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

SHANGHAI – Flying cars may have made headlines at this year’s Shanghai Auto Show, but China’s BYD — which is backed by Warren Buffett — is sticking to ground vehicles for now.

This week, Chinese electric car start-up Xpeng debuted its second prototype for a flying vehicle the company claims has already undergone eight years of development. The new model resembles a flying car more than the initial version revealed in Beijing in September, which looked more like a human-carrying drone.

Geely showed off a Volocopter electric-powered “air taxi” for the first time in China at the Shanghai auto show in April 2021.Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

Xpeng isn’t the only one looking to the skies.

Companies including Hyundai, German start-up Lilium, and China-based Ehang are developing flying vehicles that can carry individuals.

Hangzhou, China-based Geely, which owns Volvo, showed off in Shanghai an “air taxi” developed by its joint venture partner Volocopter.

‘We’re more focused on road transportation’

One of the companies’ selling points for flying vehicles is the country’s growing urban street traffic. However, while the level of consumer demand remains unclear, regulation has prevented wider use of flying cars.

But there are many ways to fix the problem of street congestion, said Li Yunfei, a spokesperson for BYD, in comments that CNBC translated from Mandarin. “Right now,” he said, “we’re more focused on road transportation.”

Li said the flying models aren’t all that different from helicopters.

Backed by investing guru Buffett, BYD sold more than 100,000 cars in the first quarter, more than half of which were new energy vehicles, a category which includes pure electric and hybrid cars.

The company announced at the auto show a new version of its electric car operating system that comes with its internally developed “Blade” battery. BYD plans to sell this battery system to third-party automakers and already counts state-owned high-end Chinese car maker Hongqi as customer for the Blade battery, Li said.

Buyers of BYD’s luxury Han electric car can