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The Flying Car Tries Crowdfunding

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Every kid’s dream is to have his or her own rocket ship, but failing in that—how about a flying car? This holy grail has been an ongoing dream since the 1950s, when a number of companies built prototypes and tried—with spectacularly unsuccessful results—to get their companies off the ground. The business model was almost as shaky as the car/planes.

The Terrafugia Transit gets a birds-eye view in 2012. (Terrafugia photo) Check out the colorful history of flying cars from the so-called “Golden Age of Aviation" here. But don’t just wallow in nostalgia. A company called Terrafugia, in its own quiet way, is trying to get the first modern flying car into the friendly skies, and now it’s turning to crowdfunding to help push the timetable forward.
 The Convair Car goes aloft in the late 1940s. (San Diego Air and Space Museum archives)Carl Dietrich, Terrafugia’s CEO and chief technical officer, told me this week that the second generation of the car/plane, known as the Transition, now has 70 hours of flight time, and 150 hours on the road. Two prototypes have been built. He predicts the first deliveries will be, after some delays, in 2015 and 2016. The company says it’s sitting on $30 million in orders.
 
At Car Talk, we’re hoping to be the first in line to get a ride in the car/plane. Tom and Ray have expressed enthusiasm to take test drives, in the air and on the ground. That’s going to have to wait until after crash testing, Dietrich said.
 
Terrafugia signed on with Wefunder last month, and it is now the “Startup of the Week.” The website says more than $10 million has been raised, but that’s from the angel investors that have supported the company so far. The Wefunder model is newly legal equity crowdfunding, which means larger amounts invested and bigger payoffs—not just the insider CDs and books that sites such as the wildly successful Kickstarter have been able to offer.
 This is what the Transit looks like on the way to the airport. The wings fold up. (Terrafugia photo)Wefunder founder Nick Tommarello said this week that Terrafugia is “by far the most popular company on Wefunder. It definitely has the most interest, though much of it is coming from unaccredited investors.”
 
That’s unfortunate, because those investors aren’t eligible to put money forth until next summer. As Tommarello points out, the JOBS Act, which allowed investor-oriented crowdfunding, is being phased in. “We are allowed to advertise our funding online, and a lot of people are coming forward.” He estimated that 85 percent of the handraisers for Terrafugia are unaccredited, and only 15 percent the immediate gravy the company needs.
 
So far the amount actually raised is small, but it’s undoubtedly raised awareness about this unusual business venture. “I think we’ll be seeing more traction on Terrafugia,” Tommarello said. “Right now, the money is just topping off their fundraising round.”
 Terrafugia's staff: racing for the finish line. (Terrafugia photo)Dietrich likes crowdfunding. “It’s kind of a sexy idea that a lot of people can relate to,” he said. “The flying car has a broad-based appeal—the concept has been part of pop culture for some time.”

Here's the Transition's first public flight, on video from last summer:


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