Flying taxi startup Lilium raises $90 million in funding

Lilium has emerged as one of Europe’s hottest start-ups as it looks to create a new category of aircraft capable of both vertical take-off and electric powered jet flight. (Photo courtesy of Lilium)
Updated 06 September 2017
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Flying taxi startup Lilium raises $90 million in funding

FRANKFURT: Lilium, a German start-up with Silicon Valley-scale ambitions to develop a five-passenger “flying taxi,” has raised a second, $90 million round of financing from top tech investors, making it one of the best-funded electric aircraft projects to date.
The company has emerged as one of Europe’s hottest start-ups as it looks to create a new category of aircraft capable of both vertical take-off and electric powered jet flight.
Lilium said on Tuesday the new funding, led by Chinese Internet giant Tencent, also includes Liechtenstein-based LGT, Europe’s largest family-owned investment firm; European venture firm Atomico; and Obvious Ventures, whose co-founder, Evan Williams, is a co-founder of Twitter.
Long the stuff of science fiction and futuristic cartoons such as “The Jetsons,” aviation and technology leaders are now racing to develop new types of electric-powered flying vehicles, dubbed “flying cars,” including Airbus, Uber and a range of start-ups including one backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, called Kitty Hawk.
In April, Lilium said it was developing a five-seat “flying taxi” after mounting successful test flights of a full-size, two-seat jet capable of a mid-air transition from hover mode, like drones, to wing-borne flight, like conventional aircraft.
Wing-borne, electric-powered flight allows commuter aircraft to travel five or six times the distance of drones, a Lilium executive said. A 20-km (12-mile) trip from Manhattan to JFK Airport could take as little as five minutes, he estimated.
“The concept goes far beyond what you typically see from German start-ups,” said Remo Gerber, the former European managing director of online taxi firm Gett, who was named Lilium’s chief commercial officer last month.
Lilium said it plans to use the new funds to expand hiring and carry it through the next development stages of its 5-seater electric jet, buying it time to meet stringent regulatory approvals.
The 70-employee company has roughly as many outstanding job postings as current staff, and plans to rapidly scale up hiring of aeronautical engineers, physicists, computer science and electric propulsion experts, Gerber said.
Lilium, which was founded in 2015 by four graduates from the Technical University of Munich, is shooting for a manned test flight of its five-seat aircraft around 2019, and to roll-out “flying taxi” commuter services, subject to regulatory approvals, some time in the next decade.
The lightweight aircraft will be powered by 36 electric jet engines mounted on its wings via 12 moveable flaps. With a range of 300 km and cruising speed of 300 km per hour, Lilium will be the only electric aircraft capable of both vertical take-off and jet-powered flight, the company said.
Combining these two features is what separates Lilium from rival start-ups working so-called flying cars or taxis that rely on drone or helicopter-like technologies, such as German rival Volocopter or European aerospace giant Airbus.
The Larry Page-backed Kitty Hawk is an all-electric personal aircraft that can be operated over water without a pilot’s license, which the Silicon Valley company said in April it plans to launch this year.
Airbus aims to test a self-piloted flying car in 2017 and is exploring a helicopter-style vehicle capable of carrying multiple passengers over cities.
Volocopter, a startup based south of Heidelberg, has won certification for an electric-powered two-seat helicopter to conduct manned flights tests in Germany. It plans autonomous air taxi test flights in Dubai later in 2017.
“Autonomous transport will come faster in the air. There are fewer objects to navigate, requiring less complex sensors and software than when compared to a car operating in an area with pedestrians,” Volocopter Chief Executive Florian Reuter said in a recent interview.


Japan exports to US fall, business mood sours amid fears of trade war

Updated 10 min 40 sec ago
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Japan exports to US fall, business mood sours amid fears of trade war

  • Exports to the US dipped 0.9 percent in June from the same period a year ago on waning shipments of cars and semiconductor manufacturing equipment
  • The batch of data highlighted concerns among Japanese policymakers who worry Trump may resort to tariffs or other protectionist measures to fix trade imbalances with Japan

TOKYO: Japan’s exports to the US fell for the first time in 17 months and Japanese business sentiment soured amid worries about US President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policies.
Exports to the US dipped 0.9 percent in June from the same period a year ago on waning shipments of cars and semiconductor manufacturing equipment, two of Japan’s most important export products.
Thursday’s trade data came on the heels of the Reuters Tankan, which showed business sentiment slipped in July, reflecting companies’ fears about an intensifying trade dispute between the US and China.
The batch of data highlighted concerns among Japanese policymakers who worry Trump may resort to tariffs or other protectionist measures to fix trade imbalances with Japan under his “America first” policy.
With American imports down 2.1 percent, Japan’s trade surplus with the US widened 0.5 percent year-on-year to ¥590.3 billion ($5.24 billion). That could make it a potential target for Trump’s protectionist policies.
Japan’s global exports rose 6.7 percent in June, while imports gained 2.5 percent.
“Overall exports remain healthy for now, but we are not sure how things are going to turn out on the trade policy front,” said Shuji Tonouchi, senior market economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. “It’ possible talk of tariffs and trade friction could reduce corporate investment.”
The Reuters Tankan, which tracks the Bank of Japan’s closely watched quarterly tankan survey, found manufacturers’ sentiment index stood at 25 in July, down one point from June, and the service sector’s mood fell to 34 from 35 in the prior month.
The index subtracts the percentage of companies that feel negative about the economy from those who are optimistic, so a positive number means more businesses are upbeat.
Concerns about protectionism were widely cited in the Reuters poll of 483 large- and mid-sized companies, of which 268 responded between July 2-13, particularly among exporters of cars, precision machinery and metal products.
The US this month imposed 25 percent tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods to lower the US trade deficit, and China quickly retaliated with an increase in tariffs on US goods.
“Our clients are increasingly taking a wait-and-see stance on capital expenditure in the face of uncertainty over trade friction between the US and China and the EU,” a manager of a machinery maker wrote in the survey.
“Uncertainty is rising over capital spending plans at our client firms due to the expansion of protectionist policies and geopolitical risks,” said another machinery maker.
The manufacturers’ index is seen rising to 29 in October, while the service-sector index is expected to hold steady, after July’s decline led by real estate/construction firms.
The BOJ’s tankan showed earlier this month that big manufacturers’ mood soured for a second straight quarter in the three months to June, hurt by rising input costs and as US trade protectionism clouds the outlook for Japan’s export-dependent economy.
Still, the mood among non-manufacturers improved slightly and big firms’ solid capital spending plans offered some relief.