30 July, 2022

Volkswagen Group in China unveils passenger drone prototype

Volkswagen Group China has unveiled its first electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) passenger drone prototype, as part of its strategy to explore and break new ground in fully electric and sustainable individual mobility concepts.
Volkswagen Group China has unveiled its first electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) passenger drone prototype, as part of its strategy to explore and break new ground in fully electric and sustainable individual mobility concepts. 

In 2020, Volkswagen Group China launched a Vertical Mobility project to explore the next generation of mobility solutions, including the urban air mobility market and the extension of urban traffic into airspace. After intensive research, conceptual work, and development, the project team has now developed its first validation model – the V.MO. This initial prototype has also been nicknamed the ‘Flying Tiger’ due to its distinctive black and gold livery, which was painted to commemorate its launch in the Year of the Tiger.

Urban air mobility is set to become a key market segment and the Group’s Vertical Mobility project in China is developing a new premium mobility concept aimed initially at high-net worth tech-savvy Chinese customers.
CEO Wöllenstein: “Our long-term aim is to industrialize this concept and, like a ‘Flying Tiger’, break new ground in this emerging and fast-evolving new mobility market.”
The prototype concept is based on existing autonomous driving solutions and battery technology for emission-free mobility. With a luxury x-wing configuration of 11.2m in length and a span width of 10.6m, the model features eight rotors for vertical lift and two propellers for horizontal flight. The Group will conduct several flight tests later this year to optimize the concept and an improved prototype will undergo further advanced test flights by late summer 2023. In its final future iteration, the fully electric and automated eVTOL could eventually carry four passengers plus luggage over a distance of up to 200km.
Stephan Wöllenstein, CEO of Volkswagen Group China, Dr. Thomas Manfred Müller, Executive Vice President responsible for Group R&D, and the Vertical Mobility project team
Stephan Wöllenstein, CEO of Volkswagen Group China, Dr. Thomas Manfred Müller, Executive Vice President responsible for Group R&D, and the Vertical Mobility project team



Dr. Stephan Wöllenstein, CEO of Volkswagen Group China, pictured above with the project team, said: “Through this pilot project, we are bringing Volkswagen’s long tradition of precision engineering, design, and innovation to the next level, by developing a premium product that will serve the vertical mobility needs of our future tech savvy Chinese customers. This is a pioneering project which our young team of Chinese experts started from scratch – they are working with new design concepts and materials while developing new safety standards, disrupting and innovating every step of the way. The launch of this stunning validation model – the V.MO – is the first of many remarkable milestones on our exciting journey towards urban air travel, and a perfect example of our ‘From China, For China’ mission. Our long-term aim is to industrialize this concept and, like a ‘Flying Tiger’, break new ground in this emerging and fast-evolving new mobility market.”

Volkswagen Group China is rapidly expanding local R&D and software expertise to respond faster to what customers want and significantly accelerate the pace of innovation. With all results monitored and shared with the Chinese government, the Vertical Mobility project requires interdisciplinary and innovative thinking in a new field, and the Group formed a team of young, local experts to drive it forward. They have been supported by Chinese partners including Hunan Sunward Technology, a subsidiary of Hunan-based manufacturing group Sunward. The company specializes in aviation product development, sales and services and is a market leader in the light sport aircraft industry.

CEO Wöllenstein: “Our long-term aim is to industrialize this concept and, like a ‘Flying Tiger’, break new ground in this emerging and fast-evolving new mobility market.”

Urban air mobility is a fast-emerging market which aims to utilize air space for short- and medium-distance connections, especially above and between large cities. In China, it is set to play a significant role in the future of urban and intercity transportation in its congested megacities. In the first phase of its commercial use, V.MO is likely to be pitched as a premium product for high-net worth tech savvy Chinese customers, for example for VIP air shuttle services. eVTOL air vehicles will be able to transport passengers more quickly and efficiently than current conventional means of terrestrial transport and with greater flexibility. As the Vertical Mobility project develops, Volkswagen Group China will work with the relevant Chinese authorities to achieve certification.


Following the launch of Volkswagen Group China’s electrical Vertical Take-off and Landing air vehicle (eVTOL) prototype – the V.MO, we speak to Zhou Jin, Project Manager & Product Owner, to find out more about the project and its next steps.

Our Vertical Mobility Vision

Why is VGC entering the vertical mobility field; what is the market opportunity? 

We live in an era of unprecedented technological change, where we’re seeing disruption and fundamental rethinking of conventional wisdom. So, at Volkswagen Group China, we believe it is essential to explore the next generation of mobility solutions, like urban air mobility and the extension of urban traffic into airspace. That’s why we have developed an electrical Vertical Take-off and Landing air vehicle (eVTOL) prototype – which we have called the V.MO – that will serve the mobility needs of our future Chinese customers. Looking ahead, we see this as having strong potential to become an increasingly relevant market segment for Volkswagen Group.

Why have you given it the nickname, the ‘Flying Tiger’?

We nicknamed this initial 001 prototype the ‘Flying Tiger’ due to its black and gold livery, which we painted to commemorate its launch in the Year of the Tiger. In Chinese, there is a famous saying, rú hǔ tiān yì, which means, ‘like a tiger that has grown wings’, you are resolved to take on a task or challenge with redoubled effort. We like to think that we have a ‘Flying Tiger’ attitude towards vertical mobility!

How will Chinese people use eVTOL in the future; who are your target customers?

Vertical mobility is likely to be a major part of the future of urban and intercity transportation in China’s megacities, where eVTOL air vehicles will be able to transport passengers faster, more efficiently, and with greater flexibility than existing ground-based solutions over short and medium distances. Our Chinese customers are savvy and intrepid adopters of new technological innovations, especially where there is such a clear and present need.

Our vision is for a private eVTOL that will serve the growing urban elite who will be travelling between Chinese megacity clusters for business and leisure. The style, format, and layout of the eVTOL was heavily influenced by intensive user research, with more than hundred high-net-worth individuals across China.

So, in the first phase of its commercial use, V.MO is likely to be pitched as a premium product for high-net worth individuals, for example for VIP air shuttle services.

What value does VGC bring to the market, and how will it differentiate from competitors?


The Vertical Mobility project plays to Volkswagen’s strengths, like our long tradition of precision engineering, design, and innovation. 

Our advanced CATL battery, exclusively developed for Volkswagen, will guarantee a high level of safety and reliability. The interaction between the technical concept and the advanced battery, aerodynamic design and lightweight materials, means we will be able to offer a range of up to 200km with a maximum flight duration of 60min on a single charge. This allows us to not only provide a concept which can be used for the urban commute, or for leisure, but also intercity transportation and airport shuttle services. 

The luxury passenger vehicle cabin experience will be a world first when it is unveiled next Spring, reflecting our advanced understanding of Chinese consumer taste and design expertise. Unlike most current eVTOL models, it will have four seats rather than two, while still providing that sense of ‘roominess’.

Also, unlike other eVTOL models, we will offer a manual flying model option that provides a small amount of control for flying enthusiasts. This is a particularly exciting development which we are confident will be very attractive to customers.

How active is the vertical mobility industry; how will it develop?

We are headed towards a world in which everyone will be able to operate aircraft, even without a pilot’s license. The key to making this possible is automation and remote control, so that passengers only need to select a destination while the vehicle’s systems take care of guidance and ensure their safety. We want to fully realize this potential at scale, so that it will be accessible to a broad swathe of Chinese customers.

The eVTOL industry is booming and is attracting players from traditional aviation, auto as well as start-ups. Worldwide there are more than 200 eVTOLs in development, with less than 10 undergoing certification. In China, the authorities have signaled a willingness to open low-altitude airspace as a possible solution to traffic congestion, which means there is a real buzz within the local market. 

The Vertical Mobility team: Zhang Yuan, Zhou Jin, Liu Yuting, Sun Wenting, Zhu Duan


Building a Flying Car from Scratch

Who are the team behind the project; what are their areas of expertise? 

The core Vertical Mobility project team is a group of young, passionate local experts – most of whom are women – who each bring unique capabilities and enthusiasm to drive the project forward. Our achievements to date attest to our ability to innovate and push the frontier of what is possible in terms of making vertical mobility feasible at scale.

• I joined Volkswagen six years ago, and the Vertical Mobility team in 2020. Despite a decade of auto experience, I was a blank piece of paper when I started learning about eVTOLs. But I worked hard to become an expert, through research, consultation with industry experts and visits to production facilities. Despite the challenges and bumps in the road, of which there have been many, I am determined and driven by the belief that we are developing something special and that we will not fail. And here it is!

• Our designer, Liu Yuting, specializes in industrial and transportation design, and joined Volkswagen and the Vertical Mobility team in January this year. She recently graduated from Hochschule Pforzheim and could have joined any other world leading studio, but she specifically chose a challenging but meaningful start to her career with Vertical Mobility. She has quickly become an expert in design management, design feasibility and vendor management, taking on the responsibilities of someone 10 years her senior.

• Our UX designer Zhu Duan joined Volkswagen in 2018 following four years at Microsoft, and Vertical Mobility in early 2019. He is an aviation enthusiast and industry expert and often exceeds the scope of his role to take the lead in other areas like livery design. He led our user studies and use cases development and has mapped out a detailed user journey which has helped us design a product which perfectly suits our target customer, right down to the entertainment system.

• Our joint project coordinator and battery lead, Zhang Yuan, has been at Volkswagen since 2013 and Vertical Mobility since 2020. Hers has been a very challenging role, given V.MO's extremely high battery requirements, and at first, we didn't think the right product existed. However, she worked tirelessly to leverage all possible resources within the Group, domestic and overseas, to source the perfect battery module from CATL and MAGNA.

• Our other joint project coordinator and communications lead, Sun Wenting, joined Volkswagen as a trainee in 2015 and has been part of the Vertical Mobility team since 2020. She does everything and anything needed for the project, from internal liaison with legal, purchasing and communications, to external vendor coordination. She is our problem solver and is playing a key role in spreading the word, internally at first but now to the world!  

While we have a small, lean, and highly motivated core team, we are also supported by strong partners such as Sunward, a market leader in the light sport aircraft industry, CATL, Magna and Tangerine. Each contributes critical competencies and specific know-how, and this global collaboration means that the project not only embodies ‘from China, for China’, but is also leading the whole world towards a future where we look to the skies for our mobility needs.

What are the features and capabilities of the eVTOL, as well as Volkswagen design innovations?

This is a pioneering project which we have started from scratch, so we are innovating all-new design concepts and materials and developing new safety standards. Our prototype concept is based on autonomous driving solutions, the idea being that everyone should be able to safely operate the aircraft without necessarily needing a pilot’s license, although of course we will also offer a manual flying model. We are also developing environmentally friendly electric propulsion systems, high-performance batteries with extremely short charging times, minimal spatial requirements for take-off and landing, and guidance and control systems that utilize advances in high-speed computing and big data. 

The V.MO’s luxury x-wing configuration has an 11.2-meter-long, 10.6-meter-wide setup with 8 rotors fixed upwards for vertical lift and 2 rear forward propulsion propellers for horizontal flight, and it is already capable of much more than just hovering above the company parking lot. In its final stage, we aim for it to carry 4 people plus luggage into the air, travelling up to 200km/h with a maximum flight duration of 60 minutes on a single charge.

The user experience for our target high-value potential customers is being closely considered with sophistication, futuristic technology, and luxury touches. For example, the cabin is located under the wings with an aerodynamic shape ensuring passengers are far away from the propellers. It is equipped with an aerodynamic skate that lifts the vehicle from the ground and supports passenger access to the cabin from the ground.

What challenges have the team encountered, and what were the solutions?

As the eVTOL industry is still in its ‘baby steps’ phase, we often found there was no existing market tech solution which matched Volkswagen’s safety and reliability standards. But even though we were starting this project from scratch, Volkswagen has a culture of vehicle development and well-established processes, and we created internal synergies where possible. The support from our Chinese partners has also been invaluable, since we have been able to leverage local development competence and resources, agile processes, and efficient supply chains to deliver this first-phase prototype.

Through this process of smart integration and innovative adjustment, it took just eight months from starting an eVTOL configuration to the first full-scale validation prototype. It feels like a world record! Everything had to take place always in parallel and we were focused on ensuring all our stakeholders, internally and externally, were aligned. At times, it has been like we were working as a start-up!

This configuration is our fourth attempt but despite the challenges and everyday difficulties, we didn’t give up until we arrived at a successful concept. And if we didn’t know how to do something, we learned quickly. It required a lot of trust and resilience within the team, and with our stakeholders, and we’re very proud of what we have achieved. 

What technology does it use and how will it advance in the future?

We’re building new applications founded on environmentally friendly electric propulsion systems, high-performance batteries with extremely short charging times, minimal spatial requirements for take-off and landing, advances in high-speed computing, and big data. 

To build a great air vehicle, you need to create balance between different performance objectives. Particularly due to the weight sensibility, it is always a trade-off between performance and result. However, we believe the luxury futuristic x-wing with tandem configuration has allowed us to find that balance between payload, fuselage roominess, weight center and aerodynamic focus.

Looking to the Future

What are the next stages in the project? When will a ground prototype be ready and when are you planning the first flight?

The launch of the V.MO is the first of many anticipated milestones on our exciting journey towards urban air travel. We will conduct several flight tests that will lead to a further-improved prototype by late summer 2023. 

What do you think the market reception to VGC’s eVTOL will be?

We would like to think that the market will recognize that this is a confident and ambitious answer to important questions about the future of vertical mobility, from a big traditional automotive giant that often isn’t perceived as ahead of the game. As well as being a perfect example of Volkswagen’s ‘from China, for China’ mission, and a gift to our future customers.