With the “Flying Tiger”, VW presented the concept of an air taxi that works with the technology used in autonomous driving. This should enable passengers to move around in the air in the future. Other manufacturers are also pushing drone technology.

Vertical take-off aircraft for “urban air mobility” were more of a science fiction topic for a long time. But they are becoming more and more concrete. After lengthy development work, the VW Group is preparing to enter a future air taxi market in China and has now completed a prototype model. The vehicle, known as the “V.MO passenger drone”, is said to be able to automatically transport four occupants and their luggage up to 200 kilometers. It has ten rotors for vertical and horizontal movement, is electrically powered and just over eleven meters long. Technology that is used in autonomous driving is also used, Volkswagen explained at the presentation on Wednesday. The air taxi’s nickname is “Flying Tiger”.

According to the departing VW China boss Stephan Wöllenstein, the futuristic-looking vehicle has good market opportunities if the demand for “vertical mobility needs” in the large conurbations of the People’s Republic actually develops as hoped in the coming years. “We want to get this concept ready for series production in the long term,” announced the manager, who will be replaced by Ralf Brandstätter on August 1st.

First test flights with VW drone planned for this year

For the time being, however, “V.MO” is likely to be a niche offer for well-heeled and technology-loving customers from the Chinese business elite. It would be conceivable for air taxis to be used regularly, for example in the form of VIP shuttles, according to VW – provided that the authorities issue all permits. Test flights are planned for this year and then advanced tests with an improved drone in the summer of 2023.

The project to expand business to “urban air mobility” has been running at VW in China since 2020. It is a rapidly growing market, explained the Wolfsburg carmaker, for which China is by far the most important sales region. The focus is on short and medium-distance air transport. These could play an important role in the future of transport in the congested megacities.

Market launch of further air taxis is imminent

There are several other vendors developing similar high-flyers along with the corresponding service strategies. The Munich air taxi manufacturer Lilium is aiming for the first commercial registrations of its seven-seater example in 2025. His model also has wings like a conventional airplane for operations between takeoff and landing. Lilium is now listed on the US tech exchange Nasdaq. Ex-Airbus boss Tom Enders heads the board of directors. Series production in Germany is planned.

Another example is the company Volocopter from Bruchsal in Baden. The manufacturer announced in the spring that it would expand its sites in order to have more capacity for further testing and production. According to the company, the air taxis will be used at the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games in Paris. Approval from the European Aviation Safety Agency is expected in the prior half of the year.

The US aircraft giant Boeing is also looking at the air taxi market. He invested $450 million in developer company Wisk Aero in January. Their small electric plane is designed to transport two people and fly autonomously. For safety, it should also be possible to remotely control it from the ground and receive a landing parachute.