Urban Air Mobility Start-up Volocopter Raises USD 55 Million, Led by Geely
COVID-19 and China
VoloCity in the air. Image credit: Volocopter

Volocopter is a German based electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft manufacturer. The products are drone-like airborne vehicles which designed for urban transportation. This round of financing will bankroll its R&D, meeting safety certification requirements for its two-seat taxi vessels and other upcoming models. 

This investment will also give the Chinese Auto Giant Geely about 10% of Volocopter’s financial stake. It’s not Geely’s first foray into UAM, it has finished an acquisition of a US flying car company in 2017. Seemingly, it has expected to create a synergy for leading new mobility services in China through the joint venture with Volocopter.

According to Volocopter’s white paper authored by its CTO, Jan-Hendrik Boelens, it’s been predicted that more than 60% of world’s population will live in cities by 2030. Accordingly, the ground infrastructure will not satisfy transportation needs in megacities with the limited capacity. Alternative solutions have been found in the sky.

The most feasible route to offer now is the airport-to-city center route, with much demand. Volocopter’s research has shown that its current model could serve in roughly 90% of megacities in the world.

Current challenges for urban air taxi revolution have 6 aspects: safety and certification; noise emission; range and speed; operating costs; capacity; usability.

From the technical and design-related point of view, balancing those decisive factors are urgent and challenging. For instance, higher capacity will lead to more noise emission and higher level of required energy cost. Volocopter’s mission is to make UAM efficient and price accessible. Since the level of required power in airtaxi is linearly higher than the take-off weight, battery swap system has been considered as a solution to increase the life cycle of batteries and thus decrease costs significantly .Current product is the two-seat model, including one seat for the pilot. It claimed that autonomous driving will be launched in the future and then double the current capacity. 

For the certification issue, Volocopter stated that it will continue close cooperation with authorities on other regulatory aspects like crew licensing, certifying vertiports, and several other aspects related to operations. Homologation is a crucial factor if Volocopter plans to open its air route in the next two to five years.

Apart from capital injected by Geely and Daimler, Volocopter also seeks for new tranche of money underway. One possible reason might be the fierce competition. Since it has no third dimension urban mobility solutions added into our cities so far, spacious room for short-distance flight market has attracted other companies such as Uber to play a role in sky-based transportation.

Regarding to the market concentration possiblity, Boelens believed that with more players evolving from the prototype stage to the product development stage, the cost will likely lead to a concentration of the industry. The concentration might lead to economies of scale simultaneously, further decrease of the operating cost might be possible which could lead to more accessible price. 

The Chinese auto maker giant's transformation plan is also clear. “Geely is transitioning from being an auto maker to a mobility tech group, investing in and developing a wider range of next-generation mobility technologies,” said Li Shufu (李书福), Geely’s chairman. 

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