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Guangzhou-based urban air mobility (UAM) company, HT Aero, has announced that it has raised a whopping $500 million in a recently held series A round. The company is backed by Chinese EV manufacturer XPENG, which also participated in this recent round alongside IDG Capital and 5Y Capital.

But what prompted XPENG, one of the most successful EV startups, to venture into urban air mobility? Deli Zhao, HT Aero’s President and founder, spoke to Auto Futures to explain how it raised the funds and explain more about the company’s urban air mobility vision.

HT Aero, as the low-altitude air mobility explorer, has been developing safe and user-friendly solutions for years,” says Zhao. “Now as XPENG’s affiliate urban air mobility company, HT Aero has built up its development and supply chain management capability in the automobile industry very quickly. This collaboration leads to a road-capable flying car that will allow users to move seamlessly from road to air all in one vehicle.”

In November, HT Aero showcased the XPENG X2, the fifth-generation road-capable flying car at a recent event in Cologne, Germany, as well as a concept version of its sixth-generation vehicle called, somewhat confusingly, HT Aero as well.

Ht Aero Sixt Gen
The sixth generation of HT Aero

“It has a comfortable, easy-to-use cockpit,” says Zhao of the new concept vehicle and “will be fully equipped with autonomous assistant pilot functions using XPENG’s signature intelligent OS. It will double down on the industry-leading safety features of the X2 and will be designed to transition seamlessly from road to air. It is a two-seater car with vertical take-off function for low altitude air space exploring. Safety is our first priority when developing this concept and is something we have been focused on since day one.

HT Aero has upgraded features from the X2, including the powertrain and flight controls, and has equipped the flying car with emergency parachute systems. Another key feature is the HT Aero’s lightweight design. The flying car weighs about 1.9 tons and uses carbon fibre, together with other robust and lightweight materials including aviation aluminium, titanium alloy, and magnesium alloy, to produce the vehicle body.

“However, HT Aero’s sixth-generation concept is not the final version of our concept, the idea is to show our vision for road-to-air journeys with our road-capable flying car and we will continue to tailor the design between now and launch,” he added.

The fifth-generation XPENG X2 is a two-seater flying but, at 4.97 metres long and 4.78 metres wide, it’s still pretty large. Its arms, however, can be folded when not in use, shrinking the width to a far more manageable 1.95 meters. The X2’s eight rotors are around 1.83 metres in diameter.

Xpeng X2 Indoors
The fifth-generation Xpeng X2

The X2’s full carbon fibre structure keeps everything light, however, meaning the eVTOL aircraft tips the scales at 560 kg, while the max take-off weight is 760 kg.

HT Aero is planning to conduct its first European test flights with the X2 this year, where the company expects it to be able to cruise at 130 kph for up to 35 minutes. Max altitude is expected to be 1,000 metres.

“For a convenient flight experience for anyone without a professional license, HT Aero has been working on autonomous flying development since last year,” says Zhao. “Apart from intelligent autopilot systems as an active solution, we have enhanced design and emergency parachute systems as passive safety solutions. Until now, HT Aero has built up its own R&D capability for all these important functions.

“HT Aero is focused on developing and producing user-friendly air mobility products for low altitude explorers and so car-sharing and other operations are not currently part of our key business strategy.”

HT Aero’s current strategy is to reach end-consumers through direct sales and the company is also open to working with partners and networks that could help improve its reach to customers.

Zhao considers eVTOLs an imminent part of the evolving mobility ecosystem, and one that would not require a lot of work to integrate with today’s existing mobility ecosystem, especially considering the burning need to resolve on-road challenges.

Xpeng X2 Clouds
The XPENG X2 soaring over tower blocks

“Social problems including traffic congestion, high mortality of car accidents, and advanced technology spur people’s interest to develop urban air mobility,” says Zhao. “Compared to traditional aeroplanes, urban air mobility vehicles are more likely to show up in the cities by virtue of their appropriateness, and technologies have become mature enough to make it a reality nowadays.”

“HT Aero’s sixth generation of a road-capable flying vehicle, which seeks to integrate driving and flight, will play a role in XPENG’s mobility ecosystem. It is also an imminent addition to a growing portfolio of urban air mobility solutions.”

But that said, urban air mobility companies face a number of challenges before they really come to market. Zhao explains: “The supply chain of eVTOL is not ready for mass production. However, thanks to XPENG, HT Aero has built up its advantages and know-how in the automobile supply chain, especially in the general technology and development process which is a key requirement to produce a real flying car.

“Due to an unclear operation environment and a totally new technical concept, legislation and homologation rules are not ready for a personal flying car. For real free flight experience, a joint effort of the whole industry will need to be made together with civil aviation administrations and wider society.”

While the company is always open to new partnerships and exploring new applications of their technology, for now, HT Aero’s main area of focus remains personal passenger transportation.

“HT Aero has already completed more than 15,000 test flights, which include manned flights and high-altitude flights (over 4,000m). HT Aero will conduct its first European test flight with the XPENG X2 next year. Also, we are thrilled to set a target of launching the sixth generation of the HT Aero concept, a real flying car, in 2024,” said Zhao.

“The sixth generation of the HT Aero concept will build on the brand’s years of experience in developing eVTOLs and act as the innovative vehicle for both land and air. The flying car will aim to integrate a car and an eVTOL in one – using XPENG’s signature intelligent operating system. The next generation will double down on the industry-leading safety features of the 5th-generation X2 and will be designed to transition seamlessly from the road to the air.

“Due to roll out in 2024, this new road-capable EV features a rotor mechanism that folds into the car, so customers can either speed down the road or helicopter their way,” he adds.

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