VW is bullish on electric air taxis for VIPs
- VW has unveiled a working electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) concept, developed in China, with an expected range of up to 124 miles.
- The automaker sees such electric vehicles serving as VIP air taxis in major Chinese cities, bypassing traffic in minutes.
- The world of eVTOL startups has noticeably lost some of the momentum it gained in the second half of the last decade as forecasted demand for air taxis cooled.
A number of startups and automakers promised us flying cars during the dizzying VTOL tech boom of the 2010s. By mid-decade, there were almost as many different concepts as major airlines, each with a different number propellers and passengers. It wasn’t long before barely creditworthy transport apps cut nifty adverts showing us our glittering air taxi future, with rooftop pick-up just a few clicks away on your phone.
The rosy promises regarding the last rounds of funding had noticeably dried up in the age of the pandemic which, by the way, called into question, albeit briefly, the whole concept of travel in dense cities. Suddenly, the busy world of the future didn’t need maximum efficiency to save time by boarding what amounted to a giant drone – the future now seems to be more about serene commuting in your self-driving electric car.
Where is it?
Volkswagen is one of those industrial giants that still sees a future in electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles. A few days ago, the automaker unveiled its first passenger V.MO drone prototypenicknamed Flying Tiger.
The craft, loosely shaped like a catamaran with a passenger compartment suspended below the structure and 36.7 feet long, uses eight exposed rotors along its top to stay aloft, with two extra for the level flight in a pusher configuration.
According to VW, in production form, the craft will be able to carry four passengers and their luggage for a distance of up to 124 miles, or 200 kilometers.
“Through this pilot project, we are taking Volkswagen’s long tradition of precision engineering, design and innovation to the next level, developing a premium product that will meet the vertical mobility needs of our future Chinese customers. tech-savvy,” said Stephan Wöllenstein. , CEO of Volkswagen Group China. “This is a pioneering project that our young team of Chinese experts started from scratch: they work with new design concepts and new materials while developing new safety standards, disruptive and innovative at every step of the process.”
Why is this happening in China?
The simple answer may have to do with the projected demand in very large cities, a growing number of which have around 10 million inhabitants and a handful of over 20 million, making air mobility a more scalable and service-oriented concept. demand compared to relatively less point-to-point. one-off use cases in Mexico, Canada, and the United States.
“In the first phase of its commercial use, V.MO is likely to be marketed as a premium product for tech-savvy wealthy Chinese customers, such as for VIP air shuttle services,” the automaker said. . “eVTOL air vehicles will be able to transport passengers faster and more efficiently than current conventional ground transportation and with greater flexibility.”
The automaker plans to undertake several flight tests later in 2022 to refine the working concept and test a future improved prototype next summer.
All the usual hurdles are still there when it comes to making eVTOL air taxis feasible, beyond the engineering itself.
Unlike in the mid-2010s, air taxis now face competition from Level 4 driverless electric vehicles as a method of urban travel, which VW itself aims to bring into service in 2024. travel time is not quite there, but such taxis will still overtake other modes of public transport and can be introduced on a large scale, while benefiting from bus lanes. eVTOL craft also face competition from regular old helicopters, which had never really evolved into a regular method of travel despite decades of development and cost, and are still considered to be held back by high operating costs, complex maintenance and generous noise levels.
Electric air taxis will also face growth challenges, including infrastructure investment, efficient route planning, and high upfront costs – hurdles that helicopters have never quite overcome to reach any scale. even in cities like New York.
Will VW succeed in China where others have stagnated?
“Our long-term goal is to industrialize this concept and, like a ‘Flying Tiger’, innovate in this new, emerging and rapidly changing mobility market,” says the automaker.