German air taxi startup Volocopter raised €50 million ($55.3 million) in a funding round led by Geely, the Chinese parent company of Volvo Cars, the company announced. The new funds will be put toward achieving Volocopter’s goal of launching a commercial air taxi service powered by its 18-rotor electric aircraft “within the next three years.”
In addition to leading this series C funding round, Geely will also enter into a joint venture with Volocopter to bring the startup’s aircraft to China. Volocopter has conducted a handful of public demonstrations of its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, most recently at the airport in Helsinki.
Geely will also enter into a joint venture with Volocopter
Geely isn’t the only major company (or automaker) with interest in Volocopter. Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, invested $30 million in 2017. Soon after, Intel announced that it would be providing technical support to the German startup.
Volocopter’s ability to attract attention and cash from so many bold-faced names is notable because electric flight is extremely hard to do — some even would say impossible in a commercial sense. Flying requires an incredible amount of energy, and present battery technology just doesn’t offer the power-to-weight ratio needed to achieve liftoff. Most experts predict that it will be years, if not decades, before battery technology can catch up.
That’s probably why Volocopter envisions its aircraft operating only over short distances. Its 2X prototype — the one with 18 rotors — features a flight time of 30 minutes and a maximum range of 27 km (17 miles), though Volocopter says the batteries can be quickly swapped to compensate for those numbers until the tech improves.
The VoloCity has slightly better specs than the 2X
Last month, Volocopter unveiled the VoloCity, the company’s fourth-generation eVTOL aircraft. The VoloCity has slightly better specs than the 2X, capable of an estimated range of 35 km (or roughly 22 miles) and an airspeed of 110 km/h (or about 68 mph). The company envisions a network of rooftop “Volo-ports” where up to 1,000 passengers could board and disembark their own personal “flying taxi” every hour. That translates to 10,000 passengers per station per day, the company claims.
With the latest round secure, Volocopter says it has raised €85 million ($94 million) to date. The company says it is in talks with investors about closing a fourth round by year’s end.