Flying taxi start-up hires designer behind modern Mini, Fiat 500

LONDON — Lilium, a German startup with Silicon Valley-scale ambitions to put electric “flying taxis” in the air next decade, has hired Frank Stephenson, the designer behind iconic cars such as the modern Mini, Fiat 500 and McLaren P1.

Lilium is developing a lightweight aircraft powered by 36 electric jet engines mounted on its wings. It aims to travel at speeds of up to 186 miles per hour, with a range of about the same 186 miles on a single charge, the firm has said.

Founded in 2015 by four Munich Technical University students, the Bavarian firm has set out plans to demonstrate a fully functional vertical take-off electric jet by next year, with plans to begin online booking of commuter flights by 2025.

It is one of a number of companies, from Chinese automaker Geely to U.S. ride-sharing firm Uber, looking to tap advances in drone technology, high-performance materials and automated driving to turn aerial driving — long a staple of science fiction movies like “Blade Runner” — into reality.

Stephenson, 58, who holds American and British citizenship, will join the aviation start-up in May. He lives west of London and will commute weekly to Lilium’s offices outside of Munich. His job is to design a plane on the outside and a car inside.

Famous for a string of hits at BMW, Mini, Ferrari, Maserati, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and McLaren, Stephenson will lead all aspects of Lilium design, including the interior and exterior of its jets, the service’s landing pads and even its departure lounges.

“With Lilium, we don’t have to base the jet on anything that has been done before,” Stephenson told Reuters in an interview.

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