Global automotive giant Volkswagen has taken a major step into the burgeoning urban air mobility (UAM) sector by unveiling the prototype of its electric takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL).
The snazzy-looking eVTOL was revealed in Beijing by Volkswagen Group China, which the German automotive company set up in 2020 as a greenhouse for UAM projects. Since then, the unit’s Vertical Mobility section has researched opportunities and technologies to permit the famous car company to elevate its transport activities above the world’s increasingly clogged roads using emission-free next-generation aircraft. The relatively quick result of that was presentation of the group’s first validation model – or V.MO. – which will serve as the prototype for testing slated to start later this year.
Nicknamed “Flying Tiger” for its black and gold livery, Volkswagen’s eVTOL is being developed to transport up to four passengers and their luggage over distances of up to 200 km, making it a potentially short-haul air taxi craft or ready for medium-range UAM flights.
The company says the prototype was developed using existing autonomous propulsion and battery technologies, and features a 11.2-meter long cross-wing configuration with a 10.6-meter span. It will be powered by eight rotors for vertical lift, and two for horizontal flight. After initial trials this year, the craft is expected to undergo advance test flights in mid-2023.
Volkswagen is not the first automotive company to respond to the sustainable and potentially lucrative allure of eVTOL development. Porsche, Daimler, Toyota, Honda, and particularly Hyundai – through its Supernal UAM affiliate – are all involved in next-generation aircraft programs. But the maker of the famous Beetle appears to be angling into the increasingly crowded sector in a particular way.
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Rather than market its eVTOL for general public UAM functions like air taxis, Volkswagen says it will at least initially position the aircraft “as a premium product for high-net worth tech savvy Chinese customers, for example for VIP air shuttle services.”
As such, the strategy focuses even more on a deep-pocketed and elite set of travelers than Lilium has with its plans to target private jet owners wanting non-polluting short- and medium-hop solutions, in addition to its wider market of companies mounting UAM options for all types of voyagers.
“Through this pilot project, we are bringing Volkswagen’s long tradition of precision engineering, design, and innovation to the next level, by developing a premium product that will serve the vertical mobility needs of our future tech savvy Chinese customers,” said Volkswagen Group China’s CEO Stephan Wöller. “This is a pioneering project which our young team of Chinese experts started from scratch – they are working with new design concepts and materials while developing new safety standards, disrupting and innovating every step of the way.”
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That focus on China also makes the Volkswagen eVTOL something of an outlier in the wider rush to produce aircraft for approaching UAM services. While most companies – even China’s EHang – are planning on seeking certification and operational authorization from Chinese regulators as part of launching activity around the globe, Volkswagen is, at least for now, focusing exclusively on the world’s second-largest economy.
“The launch of this stunning validation model – the V.MO – is the first of many remarkable milestones on our exciting journey towards urban air travel, and a perfect example of our ‘From China, For China’ mission,” said Wöller, adding that perspective is likely to broaden later on. “Our long-term aim is to industrialize this concept and, like a ‘Flying Tiger,’ break new ground in this emerging and fast-evolving new mobility market.”