In the first of a series of posts looking at key players in the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) market we take a peek at Lilium, one of the best funded and highest profile eVTOL startups in the world, headquartered near Munich in Germany.
Munich headquartered eVTOL manufacturer with over $100m of venture capital funding and ambitions to become a leading global air taxi operator with their proprietary 'Lilium Jet' electric aircraft.
CORE TECHNOLOGY / PRODUCT
The 'Lilium Jet' - a lifting-body distributed electric propulsion (DEP) electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) 'jet'. Notable for its novel pivoting flaperons, each containing multiple ducted electric fans.
Notable features include:
Lifting body / fixed wing hybrid design for efficient wing borne flight and longer range vs multicopter competitors that derive lift only from rotor blades
Ducted electric fan / 'electric jet' engines, designed and produced in-house
Absence of traditional control surfaces associated with conventional fixed-wing aircraft (elevator, rudder, ailerons)
No folding propellers nor rotating nacelles
High levels of system redundancy, including 36 x propulsors (Distributed Electric Propulsion)
Full airframe parachute
Top speed of 300km/h and claimed 300km range
Daniel Wiegand | CEO, Chief Engineer | 16% shareholder | Aerospace Engineering, Technical University of Munich
Sebastian Born | Head of Mechanical Systems & Verification | 12% shareholder | MA Development & Construction, Technical University of Munich
Matthias Meiner | Head of Avionics | 12% shareholder | Mechatronics, Robotics and Automation Engineering, Technical University of Munich
Dr Patrick Nathen | VP Product | 7% shareholder | Aerospace Engineering, Technical University of Munich
Dirk Gebser | Chief Manufacturing Officer - 07/17 - present | Previously VP Industrial A320 Programme / VP Head of A380 Section Assembly, Airbus - Director Manufacturing Engineering, Rolls-Royce
Mirko Reuter | Head of Autonomous Flight - 10/18 - present | Previously Head of Automated Driving, Audi
Peter Seidel | CIO - 10/19 - present | Previously VP BMW Group IT, CIO BMW Financial Services
Oliver Walker-Jones | Head of Communications - 12/18 - present | Previously Head of Communications - Aerospace, Rolls-Royce
$101.4m to date
$90M Series B raised 2017
Rumoured to be seeking up to $500M Series C at present
Tencent Holdings | 14% shareholder | Chinese multinational conglomerate with market cap of c. $500bn USD and 50,000+ employees | One of the world's largest tech, social media and gaming companies as well as leading global venture capital investors
LGT Capital Partners | 6% shareholder | Lichtenstein-based private equity / hedge fund, privately owned
Widely tipped as a front-running player in the emerging eVTOL / Urban Air Mobility (UAM) market. Look on course to achieve EASA certification in the next 1-3 years, subject to chosen architecture being able to meet EASA's as yet unpublished Accetpable Means of Compliance (AMCs) for their 'VTOL Special Condition' which are expected in February 2020.
Notable for their sizeable Chinese financial backers Tencent (c. $500B+ market cap), early involvement from the European Space Agency and raft of highly qualified and experienced executives recruited in the last 18 months.
Lilium aspire to be a vertically integrated electric air taxi operator. In stark contrast to commercial aviation norms they seek to not only design and build their aircraft but also to own, maintain and operate vast fleets of Lilium Jets worldwide. Imagine Airbus or Boeing operating their own international airline as well as having entirely in-house Maintenance and Repair Organisation (MRO) capabilities and you’re getting somewhere close to understanding the scope of Lilium’s bold vision. This is hugely ambitious and we expect might be tempered in the long-term eg. by a range of partnerships for aircraft maintenance as the technology matures.
But in the short term this ‘own all’ strategy in a market forecast to be worth trillions might be a very prudent gamble. It's a short-sighted eVTOL developer that’s happy to simply hand over operations to the likes of eg. Uber Elevate. In the march towards autonomous vehicles it’s the warehouse of data used to train your algorithms that just might be the most valuable commodity of all - as Tesla are proving with electric cars.
Lilium's 'secret sauce' at the minute could be considered to be their novel flight control system. If it proves as promising as their investors (notably spread across Europe, the US and Asia) seem to agree it does, the Lilium team will have conquered one of the great challenges in aviation, mastering a VTOL aircraft's transition from thrust-enabled to wing borne flight - this is the sort of challenge usually solved by the likes of Lockheed Martin in aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter building on all that was learned form the Harrier. That these same problems are being tackled and solved by a team of just a few hundred in what some tout as 'Silicon Valley with Bratwurst' at a small airfield outside of Munich, is nothing short of remarkable.
With no control surfaces akin to a traditional fixed wing aircraft and a concept vastly different to the scaled-up consumer drones from competitors like eHang or Volocopter, Lilium are truly attempting to invent an entirely new class / category of flying machine. However this ambition might also prove a stumbling block as regulators don't know quite how to certify something so exotic - and UAM is likely to be a winner-takes-all affair between now and 2030, or at the least be dominated by 1-2 key players as commercial aviation has been for so long. This is however where having a war chest of Venture Capital cash in the bank and a growing team of seasoned professionals comes into play - expect Lilium to be lobbying hard in Europe, America and Asia, with the help of their exceedingly well-connected investors.
Lilium have reportedly bought an Airline Operators' Certificate (AOC) and built an Airbus A320 sized hangar at Oberpfaffenhofen Airport near Munich (where they are headquartered) to begin serial production / see through the EASA certification programme. But their ambitions are for scalable and highly automated manufacturing and maintenance facilities worldwide, by 2025!
With some 100 test flights under their belt the crunch time for their novel airframe design comes now - they must convince regulators that their lifting body ‘electric jet’ is as at least as safe as a helicopter, despite presumably having no ability to autorotate like one in the event of catastrophic power failure, and presumably a somewhat sobering glide profile vs a traditional fixed wing aircraft (hence the presence of a full airframe ballistic parachute familiar to those who fly Cirrus light aircraft), but the bigger challenge might be to convince communities to accept fleets of aircraft operating over their heads.
Expect the highly congested and polluted Chinese market to prove key to both their operational growth and ability to scale production at competitive cost - Tencent’s connections in Beijing might just be the difference that helps Lilium achieve huge scale air taxi operations whilst their competitors are left wrangling with the likes of the FAA, stuck trying to scale in markets where the weather will put a dampener on low altitude flight operations or fighting a public backlash over noise and safety concerns. Anyone under the impression that the skies above China’s cities will first be opened up to anyone other than Chinese owned / backed businesses, who build their aircraft in China, is deluded. Today there's barely even a General Aviation market in the country and the PLA control almost all airspace, though this too is changing fast.
With China's eHang already filing for IPO Stateside with serial production having started (before even a Chinese regulatory body has approved one of their aircraft it should be noted, let alone the FAA or EASA), it'd be unsurprising if Lilium close a $500m Series C financing round early in 2020 and pipe in a few billion more from private or public investors as certification and the start of pilot and then commercial operations draws nearer in 2023-25.
With Uber Elevate drawing in partners as diverse as Hyundai, Bell and Joby and Boeing getting into bed with KittyHawk to launch their newly re-branded Wisk venture, the race for electric supremacy in the airspace above the world's most congested cities is certainly on.