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Volkswagen is exploring flying vehicles in China

Volkswagen (VLKAF) is looking into flying vehicles in China, becoming the latest automaker to probe the possibilities of personal air travel.

Europe’s largest automaker said in a statement on Tuesday that “vertical mobility” could be the next step after self-driving technology. “Therefore we are investigating potential concepts and partners in a feasibility study [in China] to identify the possibility to industrialize this approach,” it added.

China is the world’s largest autos market and is also Volkswagen’s single biggest customer. The news comes as the German carmaker makes a big push into electric cars. It delivered more than three times the volume of battery electric vehicles last year than it did in 2019, while plug-in hybrid deliveries surged 175% to 190,500 units.

But “vertical mobility” throws up many more hurdles than electric mobility, including safety and reliability. Flying vehicles would need to operate in crowded airspace, near small drones and traditional airplanes, and would also need a regulatory framework, which could take years.

In an interview posted to LinkedIn on Tuesday, head of Volkswagen China Stephan Wöllenstein told Volkswagen chairman Herbert Diess that the company also plans to develop a drone that could be licensed, which would help it to participate in the future market for individual mobility “that’s taking place up in the air and not down on the streets.”

Volkswagen joins a growing list of companies exploring the potential of flying vehicles. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, Uber (UBER) and Hyundai (HYMTF) unveiled plans for an electric flying taxi.

Meanwhile, companies such as Porsche (POAHF), Daimler (DDAIF) and Toyota (TM) have all backed startups in what is known as the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) industry.

In September, Japanese company Sky Drive Inc. conducted Japan’s first public demonstration of a flying vehicle. And Germany’s Lilium, which is also developing an eVTOL aircraft, in November announced its first US hub near Orlando, Florida.