Munich-based air taxi development company Lilium has given their design team a massive jumpstart with the successful addition of one of the world’s top designers of renowned auto brands Ferrari, Fiat, BMW, Maserati and McLaren.
The electric Lilium Jet, which has vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities, already completed a financing round of $90 million in September of 2017. The success of the company’s current VTOL jet design was then recognised at the Global Cleantech 100 Awards earlier this year, being named 2018 Early Stage Company of the Year.
Now, with Frank Stephenson on board as Head of Product Design, Lilium has surely secured a leading position in the fledgling air taxi market.
Stephenson, who is known for his highly regarded auto designs including the modern MINI, the BMW X5, the Ferrari F430 and the McLaren P1, says that the move to the clean tech transport company was not one he initially sought, but made perfect sense.
“My last job was as high up as you could be in the car design world. The obvious question was – what next? But it wasn’t one I could easily answer. And then this incredible company – founded by four super-smart young guys – came along and it immediately felt like exactly the right move,” he said.
With the creation of a new ‘company design language’, he hopes to lead the 100+ strong design team to not only guide the form and feel of the jet’s interior and exterior, but also to extend the Lilium design brand to other infrastructure such as its landing pads and departure lounges.
From working with Ferrari 12 years ago, where Stephenson recalled thinking he had scored the best job a kid could ever imagine doing, to designing sports cars with McLaren where he could reimagine auto design as he saw it – “That was as good as it gets for a designer,” the designer told Reuters.
Now, Stephenson is excited about what is a fantastic opportunity to work with Lilium and play a leading role in the future of environmentally-friendly, personal air transport.
“Lilium is going to revolutionise city travel by moving journeys from the ground into the sky. The technology that they have already developed is truly mind boggling. My job – as we accelerate towards production and a roll-out of the service – is to develop a design that will make it not just an efficient service but a supremely well designed one.
“Throughout my whole career I’ve worked hand in hand with engineers, creating vehicles that will be mechanically efficient and technically effective while also looking beautiful. I will now apply those same principles to this very latest innovation in aviation,” he said.
The air taxi space, which is currently saturated by transport giants such as Airbus, Porsche, and Uber, is perched on the cusp of science fiction becoming reality. However many of these designs rely on traditional drone concepts of multi-propeller designs such as the octocopter designed by rival German air taxi developer Volocopter.
Lilium’s jet approaches the problems of increasing population and therefore traffic congestion differently, with 36 hyper-efficient individual electric jet engines that are embedded into the wing flaps of the jet, enabling a smooth transition from vertical launch in hover mode into high-speed, horizontal flight.
Rival VTOL startups are already soaring into managed airspace – such as Kittyhawk’s Cora which will take off in NZ airspace in 2021, with the backing of Google’s Larry Page – and so the race to take prime position in the VTOL air taxi market is on.
Travelling at speeds of 300km/hr, the Lilium Jet will be able to reduce commute times from hours to minutes. Designed for speed as well as efficiency, Lilium aims to exceed their competitor’s energy efficiency by up to 90%, the company said in a press release.
Co-founder and CEO of Lilium, Daniel Wiegand says that with the addition of Stephenson to the design team, Lilium is sure to propel the experience of their future passengers to new horizons.
“Frank has created not just some of the most beautiful cars in the world, but some of the most high performance and functional vehicles ever seen on the road. Frank’s work is unique – he creates entirely new design languages that aren’t like anything that anyone has ever seen before. That is exactly what we’re trying to achieve at Lilium,” Wiegand said.
“Moreover, I want Lilium to deliver magical user experiences, and to be just as renowned for the design of our products and services as we are for what they deliver. I’m thrilled that someone as gifted and iconic as Frank is joining the team as he will be a true partner on our path to achieving this in the next few years.
“It is a sign of our clear leadership in this field that someone of Frank’s calibre is choosing to join us as we approach production of the Lilium Jet and launch of the Lilium service.”
While he will not take the design driver’s seat until next month, Stephenson already knows what he wants to achieve: “My challenge — simply put — is to make the person who gets into the jet not want to get out of it,” he told TechCrunch.
Lilium‘s first test flight took place in 2017, and the company is aiming for an inaugural manned flight next year with a view to on-demand personal air transport becoming a reality by 2025.