Flying taxi company Lilium has bagged $35m from Baillie Gifford, the UK investment firm known for taking bets on tech disruptors like Tesla, SpaceX, Airbnb and Spotify.
The new funding is an extension of the $240m Series C funding round Lilium raised just three months ago, and puts the total the company has raised at more than $375m.
“There is a huge opportunity for us to make commutes shorter.”
Coronavirus turmoil notwithstanding, Lilium is still planning to start offering electric flying taxi services in its vertical take-off and landing planes from 2025 — less than five years from now.
Remo Gerber, Lilium’s chief commercial officer, says that if anything, the company is likely to be helped by some of the ways the coronavirus pandemic is changing people’s working lives — particularly the trend of remote working.
“People might want to live more in the countryside and only commute into an office once a week. There is a huge opportunity for us to make that commute shorter — a trip that could take two hours by train might be only 20 minutes in an aircraft,” says Gerber.
Lilium’s fixed-wing electric aircraft are aimed at city-to-city commuting (other types of electric flying taxis like Volocopter tend to be best for shorter, within-city flights). The company is positioning itself as a cheaper alternative to high-speed rail services.
“It can be up to 1,000 times cheaper than building rail links and it means that smaller towns can be connected. Even when the UK’s HS2 rail link is built, it will be focused on just a few main cities. But three villages in the Cotswolds could put in a flying taxi landing pad and have a fast transport link without having to put a high-speed railway through the most pristine parts of the countryside,” he says.
It can stop regional transport from being dependent on big, slow, central government projects.
“Private investors and individual towns can make decisions on transport links. It really changes the way we think about mobility,” says Gerber.
Lilium has now grown to more than 450 employees and is starting to build out a factory in Munich to mass produce electric air taxis for the fleet. Cutbacks and layoffs at traditional aviation companies is making it easier for Lilium to hire the specialists it needs.
Baillie Gifford has also invested in US-based Joby Aviation, Lilium’s closest competitor, which raised a $590m Series C round in January.