Air taxi startup Lilium raises $240 million despite coronavirus scare

BERLIN (Reuters) - German air taxi startup Lilium said on Monday it had raised $240 million in additional funding from existing backers led by China's Tencent 0700.HK, completing the investment round at a higher valuation despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The funding brings to more than $340 million the amount raised by Munich-based Lilium, which is developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing aircraft that it hopes to launch and operate from 2025.

The funds will be used for further development of the five-seater Lilium Jet, which sports a fixed-wing design and is powered by 36 electric motors, and to ready serial production at its newly completed manufacturing facilities.

A prototype achieved speeds in excess of 100 km/h (62 mph), the company said in October. Once in service, the Lilium Jet would be able to complete an intercity “hop” of 300 km in one hour.

Lilium has been dogged by reports of problems, including a battery fire that destroyed one of its two prototypes, while experts have questioned the viability of running services that would compete with intercity flights or train and car trips.

Asked whether the fire had deterred investors, CEO Daniel Wiegand said not: “They know that the fire was annoying, but not a catastrophe. Our investors have given us a strong vote of confidence,” he told business daily Handelsblatt.

Lilium, founded by Wiegand in 2015 with two friends from the Technical University of Munich, is valued under the funding round at between $750 million and $1 billion, according to a source familiar with the matter.

David Wallerstein, chief exploration officer at Tencent, said in a statement: “At Tencent we’re committed to supporting technologies that we believe have the potential to tackle the greatest challenges facing our world.”

Tencent was joined by existing investors Atomico, Freigeist and LGT in the funding round.

Reporting by Douglas Busvine; editing by Nick Macfie