By Kelli B. Grant
Senior consumer reporter and “Deal of Day” columnist Kelli B. Grant navigates the New York International Auto Show in search of the best, worst and coolest from automakers’ new lineups. Join her as she roams the exhibit floor Wednesday and Thursday before the show’s public opening on Friday, with dispatches here and on Twitter @kellibgrant.
After years of flying-car-envy from watching “The Jetsons” and “Back to the Future Part II,” drivers are months away from being able to buy their own. Experts say that insuring one, however, might be an even more futuristic challenge.
Auto show attendees will get their first glimpse this week of Massachusetts-based Terrafugia’s Transition, a two-seat car with wings that fold out for flight. The company announced earlier this week that the vehicle completed its first flight — and could be on sale within a year. About 100 people already plunked down a deposit for the flying car, which is expected to sell for $279,000.
But insurers have yet to introduce a flying-car policy, and experts say buyers could have limited options. “There’s no off-the-shelf policy for something like this,” says Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute. There are perhaps only few insurers in the nation that would even consider creating such a hybrid offering, says insurance consultant Scott Simmonds. “You’d be lucky to find two,” he says. Selling coverage for airborne fender benders would also require approval from state insurance commissioners, which could further limit buyers’ options.
Terrafugia says it is working with insurers and state officials to make sure car flyers have coverage. “We wouldn’t let them out on their own trying to secure an insurance program for a flying car,” says Richard Gersh, the company’s vice president of business development. “We can’t discuss specifics because we’re still the better part of a year away from first delivery,” he says.
Experts estimate annual premiums could run as high as $60,000 — more than 76 times the average $785 household auto insurance policy. “It’s the flying aspect of the car,” says Simmonds. “That’s the exposure with hair on it.” Policies for light aircraft can cost as little as $3,000, he says, but a flying car is likely to fall into the more expensive experimental aircraft category. Gersh says the premiums would more likely be “in the $20,000 range, plus or minus.”
Premiums would also reflect the higher possible expense of any air or road accident, Hartwig says. Injuries and property damage from crash-landing a plane, for example, are likely to be more grievous than those incurred when driving, which affects liability coverage. Even a minor accident could be expensive to fix — few mechanics could handle such repairs, and the Federal Aviation Administration would have to re-certify the vehicle as flight-worthy, he says. Flying-car buyers could also see higher premiums if their records as a pilot or a driver aren’t spotless, they say.