Chinese automotive group Geely is forming a joint venture between its Aerofugia subsidiary and German eVTOL developer Volocopter to launch urban air mobility (UAM) services in China. Under the agreement announced on September 22, the new Volocopter Chengdu company will buy 150 of Volocopter’s aircraft and will operate these itself.
The joint venture is based in Chengdu in the Western province of Sichuan. A new facility operated by Volocopter Chengdu and Geely Technology’s General Aviation Manufacturing Base will manufacture Volocopter’s family of all-electric eVTOL aircraft and parts for the Chinese market.
The purchase agreement covers a mix of the German company’s two-seat VoloCity model, the cargo-carrying VoloDrone, and the larger, longer-range VoloConnect aircraft that is in the early stages of development. The partners say they will work with Chinese aviation, transportation, and other government agencies to prepare for air taxi services to start within three to five years.
As part of the new alliance, Geely Holding Group CEO Daniel Li Donghui has joined Volocopter’s advisory group. Geely has previously invested in Volocopter, but the creation of the joint venture does not alter its holding in the parent company.
The agreement was signed in Chengdu as the two companies prepared to jointly exhibit at China’s Zhuhai Airshow from September 28 to October 3. “Geely has been a valuable partner since they became our strategic investor in 2019,” said Volocopter CEO Florian Reuter. “Today marks another important milestone in our journey to bring affordable electric air mobility to China, the biggest single market opportunity in the UAM industry.”
According to Volocopter chairman Jing Chao, the joint venture is part of Aerofugia’s wider business plan, which focuses on “new energy, vertical landing and takeoff [capability], and autonomous driving.”
In February 2021, Geely moved work on Terrafugia’s Transition flying car to China following its earlier acquisition of the U.S. company. This vehicle has been approved with an FAA light sports aircraft certificate, but Geely now intends to get approval from Chinese authorities.
Back in early 2020, Geely made an internal company announcement confirming plans to develop an eVTOL aircraft called the TF-2. The new partnership with Volocopter might suggest that it has discontinued this plan, although Geely has repeatedly declined to provide further details about this program. The four-seat design would supposedly have a range of 185 miles, a 1,200-pound payload, and a maximum speed of 144 mph.