LONDON — As interest in flying cars continues to swell, one of the most prominent startups working on the technology has gained a big new backer.
Lilium Aviation, a German company that held a successful test flight of the Eagle, its two-seat electric jet at their Munich base this year, announced Tuesday that it has raised $90 million in a new round of financing.
The investment was led by Tencent Holdings, the Chinese internet giant. Other investors in the round included LGT, the investment vehicle of Lichtenstein’s royal family; Atomico, the venture firm run by a founder of Skype, Niklas Zennstrom; and Obvious Ventures, the investment firm co-founded by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. Zennstrom has previously invested in the company.
Lilium is among several companies looking to usher in an era of Jetsons-type flying cars, including those backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, Uber and Airbus.
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But the 2-year-old company is trying to stand out by focusing on an electric jet — unlike other models that effectively function more like hovercraft.
The design, by the four graduates of the Technical University of Munich who founded Lilium, is meant to be more energy efficient than competitors’ models. As the startup demonstrated with its Eagle in April, Lilium’s vehicle is designed to take off and land vertically, like a helicopter.
Lilium is also working on a bigger, five-seat version of what it calls an “air taxi” that could ferry passengers or cargo as far as 300 kilometers, or 186 miles, and reach a maximum speed of 300 kilometers an hour.
“We have highly congested cities where we can do things to improve matters,” said Remo Gerber, Lilium’s chief commercial officer.
He and his colleagues envision a fleet of air taxis zipping across crowded cities, once the vehicles are created and approved by the various regulators, of course.
“We’re trying to move from a niche transport vehicle to a mass-transport one,” he added.
That has obvious appeal to Tencent: Its e-commerce empire could benefit from making such air transport a reality.
“From underdeveloped regions with poor road infrastructure, to the developed world with traffic congestion and sprawl, new possibilities emerge when convenient daily flight becomes an option for all of us,” David Wallerstein, Tencent’s chief exploration officer, said in a statement.
The cash infusion from Tencent and other investors will help accelerate that work and allow Lilium to expand beyond its team of roughly 70 employees, Gerber said.