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Chinese auto giant invests in flying-taxi startup

Frankfurt

GERMAN "flying taxi" developer Volocopter said on Monday that it has raised 50 million euros (S$76 million) from investors, including auto-maker Geely, risking a revived debate about Chinese investments in EU firms.

Volocopter said: "The new funds will go towards bringing the VoloCity aircraft to commercial launch within the next three years."

Small firms, including German contenders like Volocopter and Lilium, are in a race with established aircraft manufacturers like Airbus and billion-dollar tech giants like Uber to produce the first air taxis.

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An array of 18 helicopter-style rotors powered by batteries heave the VoloCity into the sky, with the company saying it can carry two passengers with hand luggage up to 35 km, at speeds of up to 110 kph.

The Financial Times reported that Geely's stake in Volocopter is around 10 per cent of the firm.

Chairman Li Shufu said the investment underlines Geely's "confidence in Volocopter air taxis as the next ambitious step in our wider expansion in both electrification and new mobility services".

Volocopter said its founders remain the largest shareholders, alongside names like Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler and chip-maker Intel.

Geely's arrival as a major Daimler investor - secretively building up a roughly 10-per-cent stake before unveiling it in February 2018 - unsettled German politicians and businesses. Its move followed a slew of Chinese investments into key industries, sparking fears of vital technologies slipping out of German control; Berlin has tightened laws on foreign investments, especially in strategic sectors.

But Daimler has sought to downplay the influence of Geely, which alongside its Chinese products has been buying up European carmakers like Sweden's Volvo. Daimler chief executive Olla Kallenius said: "We are delighted to see our partners at Geely investing into Volocopter and becoming shareholders." AFP