Terrafugia Says Flying Car Likely to Take Off in Massachusetts, But Might Land Elsewhere

Terrafugia, the Woburn, MA-based company out to produce the first practical flying car—or street legal airplane, to use the company’s term— said today it plans to build its first commercial vehicle next year in the Bay State. But CEO Carl Dietrich also said that while the company hopes to stay in Massachusetts and create hundreds of new jobs, it is considering moving production to other states like Ohio, Kentucky, or Michigan.

The skies were mostly clear, the weather unseasonably warm, and the crowd upbeat as the MIT spinoff, which was a runner-up in the school’s $100K business plan competition in 2006, hosted about 20 politicians, press, and other guests at its headquarters for a much-sought-after update on its plans. Dietrich used the occasion to deliver an optimistic picture of Terrafugia’s future, while also issuing what sounded like part warning, part plea to the politicians present, who included state Senators Steven Baddour (D-Methuen) and Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington).

Here are some highlights from the afternoon:

—Terrafugia will deliver its first commercial car, called Transition, by the end of 2011.

—About 70 customers, mostly private persons, have already reserved Transitions.

—The vehicles will sell for a base price of $194,000.

—Dietrich told the crowd that Terrafugia plans to ramp up production gradually over the next five years, with plans to eventually churn out between 300 and 400 craft annually.

—That level of output has the potential to support in excess of 400 skilled manufacturing jobs and high-tech engineering positions while passing approximately $150 million through to its workforce and suppliers each year, Dietrich said.

Terrafugia flying car cockpitRichard Gersh, vice president of business development for Terrafugia, told Xconomy after the event that the whole point of the gathering was to raise the company’s visibility among local stakeholders who could help the startup find ways to keep its manufacturing operations in Massachusetts. (Whether Terrafugia is pursuing tax breaks, grants, loans, or other incentives, the company isn’t saying yet.)

“We understand that the economy is a challenge for everybody, but these are opportunities that we don’t want to slip by, and we just wanted to make sure that we have covered all the bases,” Gersh says. “I think we met with the right people today.”

Gersh says that Senator Baddour is a relative of one of Terrafugia’s investors; the North Andover airport where Terrafugia conducts test flights also happens to be in Baddour’s district. Senator Donnelly’s district, meanwhile, includes Terrafugia’s Woburn headquarters.

“Senator Donnelly is from our district, so he is certainly looking not to lose jobs in our state but to grow the work base,” says Gersh. “Without reaching out to them, they may not have known about the opportunity that exists.”

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