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The Archer Maker eVTOL. Photo: Courtesy Archer

The Electric: Electric Air Taxis Are Coming, but Not How Backers Envision Them

Photo: The Archer Maker eVTOL. Photo: Courtesy Archer

Welcome back to The Electric!

On Thursday: The most-consulted compendium of data on batteries and electric vehicles is the annual BloombergNEF New Energy Outlook. This week, BNEF will release its 2022 industry forecast. Right afterward, we will discuss it with Colin McKerracher, BNEF’s head of auto and transport analysis, who leads the analytical team behind the forecasts. Thursday, June 1 at 11 a.m. ET. Register here. ​​  

One of the biggest investment manias of the last year has been in startups developing eVTOLs, four- to seven-seat electric aircraft that fly like helicopters. This week, we examine a few of the companies and conclude that the eVTOL age isn’t going to unfold exactly as its popularizers have depicted.   

Last fall, Michael Schwekutsch quit Apple’s secretive electric vehicle project over a feeling that EVs were becoming old hat: He saw people one-up each other in their Tesla Model S, Lucid Air and Mercedes EQS, reminding him of gasoline braggarts of yore. “It’s already at the point where we were with combustion 10 years ago, where the pickup guys were sitting over a beer saying, ‘My Ram 1500 is 0.2 seconds quicker.’ And a Silverado guy says, ‘I have a bigger payload.’ Then the F-150 guy chimes in saying, ‘I have bigger towing capacity,’ or whatever,” Schwekutsch told me. “The EV space has moved into the new normal. There is still a lot of development to be made, but it’s a standard industry.”

So Schwekutsch took a leap, accepting a job to create the power train for a five-seat electric air taxi for Archer Aviation, a Palo Alto, Calif., company. The taxi—a helicopter-like craft officially known as an electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle—will have 12 motors and is designed to carry passengers as far as 60 miles at up to 150 miles an hour while perspiring terrestrial-bound motorists honk and wait in bumper-to-bumper traffic below.

At once, electric aviation is one of the new, new things in Silicon Valley and tech hubs elsewhere: Some 250 startups raised about $15 billion over the last decade to develop eVTOLs and similar electric aircraft. Given the hundreds of millions more that most of them still need to meet commercial and regulatory requirements, few are likely to survive. One struggling eVTOL maker is Germany’s Lilium Air Mobility, which went public through a special purpose acquisition company in September. Lilium has raised more than $800 million since 2015, but in March it issued a warning about its financial condition with the Securities and Exchange Commission: “There is substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.”

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