Rolls-Royce plans its exit from the electric propulsion business
By Paul Brinkmann|December 1, 2023
Any impacts on air taxi developers remain uncertain
Rolls-Royce, which at one time planned to build electric motors for at least three air taxi companies, announced Tuesday that it will sell its electric propulsion business segment as part of a refocusing plan, a development that could complicate the plans of two air taxi developers, Vertical Aerospace and Supernal.
The London-based aerospace giant, best known for its jet engines, in 2019 bought the electric and hybrid-electric business of Siemens to augment its existing Rolls-Royce Electrical segment. The company referred to that segment in a Nov. 28 press release, saying it was “looking at options to exit” the electric propulsion business, and that it believes its work on developing electric engines “will represent good value to a third party.”
Vertical, based in Bristol, U.K., does not yet know whether or how this decision could impact its plan to power its aircraft with electric motors from Rolls-Royce.
“Vertical is working with Rolls-Royce to understand this week’s announcement in more detail,” the company said in an email to me, while adding that it continues to work toward an aircraft type certificate for its VX4 design from the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority.
Washington, D.C., electric air taxi developer Supernal, a subsidiary of Hyundai, also intended to buy electric motors from Rolls-Royce. The company did not immediately respond to questions about the Rolls announcement.
Air taxi startup Eve Air Mobility of São Paulo decided in June to ditch Rolls-Royce as a supplier for its electric motors. Eve said it would instead buy them from Nidec Aerospace of Japan.
One air taxi advocate doubts that the sale will disrupt anyone. “This should really have no bearing on Vertical Aerospace or anyone else in the AAM [advanced air mobility] sector,” said Mike Hirschberg, director of strategy for the Vertical Flight Society in Fairfax, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C. Any sale could amount to only a name change for the Rolls facilities in Munich where the development is underway, he said.
Rolls in January announced that it would be restructuring and reducing its staff of 42,000 worldwide, as CEO Tufan Erginbilgiç began his tenure.
Formerly an executive at oil company BP, Erginbilgiç during an address at a manufacturing site reportedly described Rolls as a “burning platform” in need of transformation.
But as recently as October, Rolls had struck an upbeat tone about its role in the air taxi industry. The president of Rolls-Royce Electrical, Olaf Otto, spoke on stage at a Vertical Flight Society event in July in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and at one in Germany in October.
“We are very committed in terms of supporting this sustainable future,” Otto said in July at the VFS Electric Aircraft Symposium.