Hilton engineered the company’s modular proprietary powertrain, drawing on decades of knowledge technically leading some of the most successful racing teams in history. Indeed, he is one of the most highly regarded minds in powertrain engineering with an F1 career that includes technical leadership of Michael Schumacher’s World Championship win in 1994 for Benetton and the double driver and constructors World Championship victories for Renault and Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006.
Future Thoughts: An all-electric future with Lunaz and Jon Hilton
Jun 03 2021
As part of our Future Thoughts series, Airspeeder spoke to Jon Hilton, the Managing Director and Technical Lead of Lunaz. From their base in Silverstone, England they re-engineer, restore and electrify some of the most celebrated classic cars ever created. This includes coming to market with the world's first fully-electric Range Rovers, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, and Jaguar sports cars. Lunaz has also just announced a significant expansion of its offering beyond classic cars. This follows investment from David Beckham and some leading names in UK business.
We expected backlash from the purists but people fundamentally understand that the world is changing and that it is vital to keep cars like this on the road.Jon Hilton Managing Director and Technical Lead, Lunaz
Airspeeder: It’s clear the future is electric. What is your vision for the next decade in mobility on land and in the air?
Jon Hilton: As both an engineer and a car lover I can’t think of a more exciting time in history. It is clear that the transition to clean-air powertrains is now fully underway. Legislators are pushing hard and it is going to be very difficult to drive or ride an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle in major population centres in the next decade. This should be embraced but with a clear mind to what we do with the 2 billion ICE vehicles that exist on the planet. These are the questions we are so excited to answer at Lunaz with applications for our modular powertrain far beyond just classic cars.
There has never been a more exciting time to be innovating within mobility. Tell us in summary what it is you are doing. Where have you come from?
I started on the aeronautics side of Rolls-Royce and helped engineer a helicopter speed record (I feel in good company talking to Airspeeder.). A career in F1 followed where I was lucky to work with some of the most talented drivers and technical minds in the history of the sport.
I left to explore the incredible potential of hybrid technology in much more mainstream automotive use. My company Flybrid was sold a few years ago and I thought I was retired until I met Lunaz co-Founder David Lorenz and heard his vision to extend the life of vehicles across the full spectrum of automotive uses.
The world is pushing towards a more sustainable future. Does motorsport still have a role as entertainment and a driver of technical progress?
Absolutely. Competition accelerates the technology that markets demand. The world is rightly moving towards a decarbonised future so I have every faith in the role motorsport will continue to play in making that progress happen. I look at what Airspeeder is doing in really providing a place to push the limits of such an exciting new mobility technology and cannot fail to see the similarities with how motorsport has influenced the road car.
Indeed, nothing makes innovation move quicker than funding very smart minds and telling them to compete. We all know what has filtered down from motorsport to our everyday road car use and we can all thank those outliers in the early days of the sport for the safe and comfortable mobility experiences we all take for granted today.
How do you think it can adapt itself to be more in tune with the requirement to consume less?
The answer is, it already is. Beyond F1 and their push towards greater efficiency and sustainability just look at how vibrant racing is for clean-air powertrains. Formula E has exploded in popularity. The Dakar is moving towards Hydrogen. Airspeeder is putting electric flying cars in the air. E1 is doing the same on water and Extreme E are promoting a message about racing with very little impact. As a company engaged in marketing an electric vehicle all of this contributes to building an acceptance globally that zero-emissions powertrains are the future.
The world is rightly moving towards a decarbonised future so I have every faith in the role motorsport will continue to play in making that progress happen.Jon Hilton Managing Director and Technical Lead, Lunaz
The future is autonomous. What are your thoughts on mobility as a service? Is there still scope to provide something to those that strive to drive/pilot a vehicle?
It’s been fascinating observing the performance brands within much bigger automotive groups. They know that their mainstream future is autonomous but as a driver, it gives me enormous hope to see marques like Lotus, Porsche, and now even Lamborghini make huge future-focused statements about how they will answer the need that so many of us have to drive something dynamically.
You only have to look at how people engaged with the electric classics we produce. We expected backlash from the purists but people fundamentally understand that the world is changing and that it is vital to keep cars like this on the road. We feel a responsibility to the fact that it makes people as happy to see a Jaguar XK120 as the driver who is lucky enough to be behind the wheel. We are proof that electrification doesn’t mean the end of the era where beauty and pure dynamics are the key characteristics of a vehicle.
New power sources are cleaning our air and allowing us to breathe new life into vehicles that otherwise would have been scrapped.Jon Hilton Managing Director and Technical Lead, Lunaz
The Airspeeder format takes racing to anywhere in the globe. Where would you stage an electric flying car Grand Prix and why?
The F1 circuit at Silverstone. Our new HQ sits directly opposite Club Corner and the Hamilton straight. We’d very much like your audience in the millions watching Speeders fly past!
In 10 years time, how will you get to work in the week and what are you travelling in on a Sunday?
An electrified Range Rover by Lunaz for every day and something like one of our electric XK120s at the weekend. I could certainly see room in the stable for a performance eVTOL car from Alauda when the time comes to offer a ‘road going’ version.
In one sentence, describe your instinctive thoughts on the birth of electric flying car racing?
Hugely exciting technology and a very sensible route to making it happen sooner. I can’t wait to watch it!
In your view, what is the single greatest mobility innovation?
I’m a great believer in always looking forward. My answer is that tomorrow’s innovation is the greatest. New power sources are cleaning our air and allowing us to breathe new life into vehicles that otherwise would have been scrapped. Beyond cars and industrial vehicles, I cannot help but be excited at the prospect of electric personal aerial mobility and its potential to give time back that would be wasted in congestion.
Read our previous interview with W Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir.