With a reported deal in the wings for Joby Aviation, electric aircraft soars to $10B business

Jonathan Shieber
·4-min read

One year after nabbing $590 million from investors led by Toyota, and a few months after picking up Uber’s flying taxi business, Joby Aviation is reportedly in talks to go public in a SPAC deal that would value the electric plane manufacturer at nearly $5.7 billion.

News of a potential deal comes on the heels of another big SPAC transaction in electric planes (for Archer Aviation). If the Financial Times' reporting is accurate, then that would mean the two will soon be publicly traded at a total value approaching $10 billion.

It’s a heady time for startups making vehicles powered by anything other than hydrocarbons, and the SPAC wave has hit it hard.

Electric car companies Arrival, Canoo, ChargePoint, Fisker, Lordstown Motors, Proterra and The Lion Electric Company are some of the companies that have merged with SPACs — or announced plans to — in the past year.

Now it appears that any company that has anything to do with the electrification of any mode of transportation is going to get waved onto the runway for a public listing through a special purpose acquisition company vehicle — a wildly popular route at the moment for companies that might find traditional IPO listings more challenging to carry out but would rather not stay in startup mode when it comes to fundraising.

The investment group reportedly taking Joby to the moon! out to public markets is led by the billionaire tech entrepreneurs and investors Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, and Mark Pincus, who launched the casual gaming company, Zynga.

Together the two men had formed Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company, earlier in 2020. The shell company went public and raised $690 million to make a deal.

Any transaction for Joby would be a win for the company’s backers, including Toyota, Baillie Gifford, Intel Capital, JetBlue Technology Ventures (the investment arm of the U.S.-based airline) and Uber, which invested $125 million into Joby.

Joby has a prototype that has already taken 600 flights, but has yet to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. And the success of any transaction between the company and Hoffman and Pincus’ SPAC group is far from a sure thing, as the FT noted.

The deal would require an additional capital infusion into the SPAC that the two men established, and without that extra cash, all bets are off. Indeed, that is probably one reason why anyone is reading about this now.

Alternatively powered transportation vehicles of all stripes and covering all modes of travel are the rage right now among the public investment crowd. Part of that is due to rising pressure among institutional investors to find companies with an environmental, sustainability and good governance thesis that they can invest in, and part of that is due to tailwinds coming from government regulations pushing for the decarbonization of fleets in a bid to curb global warming.

The environmental impact is one chief reason United chief executive Scott Kirby cited when speaking about his company’s $1 billion purchase order from the electric plane company that actually announced it would be pursuing a public offering through a SPAC earlier this week.

“By working with Archer, United is showing the aviation industry that now is the time to embrace cleaner, more efficient modes of transportation,” Kirby said. “With the right technology, we can curb the impact aircraft have on the planet, but we have to identify the next generation of companies who will make this a reality early and find ways to help them get off the ground.”

It’s also an investment in a possible new business line that could eventually shuttle United passengers to and from an airport, as TechCrunch reported earlier. United projected that a trip in one of Archer’s eVTOL aircraft could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50% per passenger traveling between Hollywood and Los Angeles International Airport.

The agreement to go public and the order from United Airlines comes less than a year after Archer Aviation came out of stealth. Archer was co-founded in 2018 by Adam Goldstein and Brett Adcock, who sold their software-as-a-service company Vettery to The Adecco Group for more than $100 million. The company’s primary backer was Marc Lore, who sold his company Jet.com to Walmart in 2016 for $3.3 billion. Lore was Walmart’s e-commerce chief until January.

For any SPAC investors or venture capitalists worried that they’re now left out of the EV plane investment bonanza, take heart! There’s still the German tech developer Lilium. And if an investor is interested in supersonic travel, there’s always Boom.