By Douglas Busvine
BERLIN (Reuters) -German air shuttle startup Lilium said on Tuesday it would float on the U.S. stock market via a reverse merger with Qell Acquisition Corp, a blank-check acquisition company, in a deal valuing the combined business at $3.3 billion.
Munich-based Lilium is competing with other aviation companies to deploy battery-powered aircraft that can take off and land vertically, offering a new way for travelers to beat traffic and hop between cities.
It joins U.S. rival Joby in merging with a listed shell company to attract capital at multi-billion-dollar valuations, on top of hefty funding already raised from venture capital backers.
Lilium said the combination with Qell, led by Barry Engle, former president of General Motors North America, would support its objective of launching commercial operations in 2024.
“In Qell, we have found a partner who shares our ambition for sustainable mobility and brings tremendous experience in running mobility and hardware businesses,” Daniel Wiegand, CEO and co-founder of Lilium, said in a statement.
Total gross proceeds are expected to be $830 million, including $380 million held in trust and proceeds from a $450 million private placement.
Investors in the placement include fund manager Baillie Gifford, funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Tencent, Ferrovial, LGT, Palantir, Atomico, FII Institute and private funds affiliated with PIMCO.
The transaction implies fully diluted pro forma enterprise value of $2.4 billion, which works out at 0.7 times forecast revenue of $3.3 billion and at 3.4 times forecast core profits of $708 million in 2026, a company presentation said.
In addition to its five-seater fixed-wing prototype, the company also unveiled a seven-seater model, which it said was the most economically viable for the regional trips that will be its mainstay business.
The seven-seater Lilium Jet will be the first model to go into serial production. It will have a cruising speed of 175 miles per hour (280 kph) and a range of more than 155 miles (250 kilometers).
It received the CRI-A01 certification basis last year from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, its primary regulator. The next step is to obtain equivalent recognition from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
“Our objective is to achieve almost simultaneous certification on both sides of the Atlantic,” Yves Yemsi, Lilium’s chief program officer, told an investor presentation.
Lilium rival Joby has already announced plans to go public via a $6.6 billion deal to merge with Reinvent Technology Partners, a U.S.-listed shell company.
German air taxi startup Volocopter also plans to raise fresh funds, CEO Florian Reuter said this month, adding that a deal to go public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) was one option.
Lilium intends to launch its first network in Florida, where it will site its first Vertiport at Lake Nona, a smart city being built near Orlando International Airport.
The combined company will add Engle to the board, joining current members including Tom Enders, former CEO of Airbus.
JP Morgan and Barclays advised Qell while Citi advised Lilium. The three banks acted as lead placement agents for the private placement.
Reporting by Douglas Busvine, editing by Emma Thomasson, Susan Fenton and Barbara Lewis.