Amazon Boss Bezos Supports Scrutiny of Big Companies

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said Tuesday that it was right that big companies are scrutinized and that his firm would respond to any new regulations by finding new ways to please its customers.

Bezos was speaking in Berlin, where he received an award from German media company Axel Springer, and was responding to a question about how seriously he took recent criticism of Amazon by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“All large institutions should be scrutinized or examined,” Bezos said. “It is not personal.”

“We have a duty on behalf of society to help educate any regulators without cynicism or skepticism,” he added. “We will work with any set of regulations that we are given. … We will follow those rules and find a new way to delight customers.”

Trump has said he would take a serious look at policies to address what he says are the unfair business advantages of Amazon, accusing the firm of not operating on a level playing field and not paying enough sales tax.

“We humans, especially in the Western world, especially inside democracies, are wired to be mindful of big institutions. … It doesn’t mean you don’t trust them or they are evil or bad,” Bezos said.

Amazon has also come in for criticism elsewhere over its tax policies and treatment of warehouse staff, with hundreds of European workers protesting on Tuesday outside the building where Bezos was speaking over pay and conditions.

“I’m very proud of our working conditions and I’m very proud of the wages we pay,” Bezos said. “We don’t believe we need a union to be an intermediary between ourselves and our workers.”

Post ownership

Bezos also defended his ownership of The Washington Post, which Trump has called the “chief lobbyist” for Amazon. The Post is privately owned by Bezos, not Amazon.

Bezos said the need to scrutinize large organizations was one of the reasons that the Post’s work was so important, adding he had no problem with the newspaper pursuing critical reporting about Amazon and said he would never meddle in the newsroom.

“I would be humiliated to interfere,” he said. “I would turn bright red. I don’t want to. It would feel icky, it would feel gross.

“Why would I? I want that paper to be independent.”

Bezos, the world’s richest person with a fortune of more than $100 billion, added that he was not interested in buying other newspapers, despite receiving monthly requests to bail out other struggling media organizations.

He said he would keep liquidating about $1 billion of Amazon stock a year to fund his Blue Origin rocket company, saying he hoped to test a tourism vehicle with humans at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

Asked about the scandal over the alleged misuse of the data of nearly 100 million Facebook users, Bezos said Amazon had worked hard on security: “If you mistreat your data, they will know, they will work it out. Customers are very smart.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Amazon Boss Bezos Supports Scrutiny of Big Companies

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said Tuesday that it was right that big companies are scrutinized and that his firm would respond to any new regulations by finding new ways to please its customers.

Bezos was speaking in Berlin, where he received an award from German media company Axel Springer, and was responding to a question about how seriously he took recent criticism of Amazon by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“All large institutions should be scrutinized or examined,” Bezos said. “It is not personal.”

“We have a duty on behalf of society to help educate any regulators without cynicism or skepticism,” he added. “We will work with any set of regulations that we are given. … We will follow those rules and find a new way to delight customers.”

Trump has said he would take a serious look at policies to address what he says are the unfair business advantages of Amazon, accusing the firm of not operating on a level playing field and not paying enough sales tax.

“We humans, especially in the Western world, especially inside democracies, are wired to be mindful of big institutions. … It doesn’t mean you don’t trust them or they are evil or bad,” Bezos said.

Amazon has also come in for criticism elsewhere over its tax policies and treatment of warehouse staff, with hundreds of European workers protesting on Tuesday outside the building where Bezos was speaking over pay and conditions.

“I’m very proud of our working conditions and I’m very proud of the wages we pay,” Bezos said. “We don’t believe we need a union to be an intermediary between ourselves and our workers.”

Post ownership

Bezos also defended his ownership of The Washington Post, which Trump has called the “chief lobbyist” for Amazon. The Post is privately owned by Bezos, not Amazon.

Bezos said the need to scrutinize large organizations was one of the reasons that the Post’s work was so important, adding he had no problem with the newspaper pursuing critical reporting about Amazon and said he would never meddle in the newsroom.

“I would be humiliated to interfere,” he said. “I would turn bright red. I don’t want to. It would feel icky, it would feel gross.

“Why would I? I want that paper to be independent.”

Bezos, the world’s richest person with a fortune of more than $100 billion, added that he was not interested in buying other newspapers, despite receiving monthly requests to bail out other struggling media organizations.

He said he would keep liquidating about $1 billion of Amazon stock a year to fund his Blue Origin rocket company, saying he hoped to test a tourism vehicle with humans at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

Asked about the scandal over the alleged misuse of the data of nearly 100 million Facebook users, Bezos said Amazon had worked hard on security: “If you mistreat your data, they will know, they will work it out. Customers are very smart.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s Oft-told Tale of US Payout to Iran

President Donald Trump likes to tell a story about the U.S. paying out billions of dollars to Iran as part of the multinational deal freezing its nuclear program and easing sanctions against it. What he doesn’t say is that most of that money was Iran’s to begin with. The rest relates to an old debt the U.S. had with Iran.

 

The numbers and some details change in his retelling — dating back to the 2016 campaign — but his bottom line is always the same: The Obama administration was hoodwinked into giving Iran all that money, some of it in a huge and hidden bundle of cash.

 

The latest iteration of his claim Tuesday and the reality behind it:

 

TRUMP: “The Iran deal is a terrible deal. We paid $150 billion. We gave $1.8 billion in cash. That’s actual cash, barrels of cash. It’s insane. It’s ridiculous. It should have never been made. But we will be talking about it.” — remarks before a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. At a news conference Tuesday, he spoke about “giving them, Iran, $150 billion at one point.”

 

THE FACTS: There was no $150 billion payout from the U.S. treasury. The money he refers to represents Iranian assets held abroad that were frozen until the deal was reached and Tehran was allowed to access its funds.

 

The payout of about $1.8 billion is a separate matter. That dates to the 1970s, when Iran paid the U.S. $400 million for military equipment that was never delivered because the government was overthrown and diplomatic relations ruptured.

 

That left people, businesses and governments in each country indebted to partners in the other, and these complex claims took decades to sort out in tribunals and arbitration. For its part, Iran paid settlements of more than $2.5 billion to U.S. citizens and businesses.

 

The day after the nuclear deal was implemented, the U.S. and Iran announced they had settled the claim over the 1970s military equipment order, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the $400 million principal along with about $1.3 billion in interest. The $400 million was paid in cash and flown to Tehran on a cargo plane, which gave rise to Trump’s dramatic accounts of money stuffed in barrels or boxes and delivered in the dead of night. The arrangement provided for the interest to be paid later, not crammed into containers.

 

Read more AP Fact Checks.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s Oft-told Tale of US Payout to Iran

President Donald Trump likes to tell a story about the U.S. paying out billions of dollars to Iran as part of the multinational deal freezing its nuclear program and easing sanctions against it. What he doesn’t say is that most of that money was Iran’s to begin with. The rest relates to an old debt the U.S. had with Iran.

 

The numbers and some details change in his retelling — dating back to the 2016 campaign — but his bottom line is always the same: The Obama administration was hoodwinked into giving Iran all that money, some of it in a huge and hidden bundle of cash.

 

The latest iteration of his claim Tuesday and the reality behind it:

 

TRUMP: “The Iran deal is a terrible deal. We paid $150 billion. We gave $1.8 billion in cash. That’s actual cash, barrels of cash. It’s insane. It’s ridiculous. It should have never been made. But we will be talking about it.” — remarks before a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. At a news conference Tuesday, he spoke about “giving them, Iran, $150 billion at one point.”

 

THE FACTS: There was no $150 billion payout from the U.S. treasury. The money he refers to represents Iranian assets held abroad that were frozen until the deal was reached and Tehran was allowed to access its funds.

 

The payout of about $1.8 billion is a separate matter. That dates to the 1970s, when Iran paid the U.S. $400 million for military equipment that was never delivered because the government was overthrown and diplomatic relations ruptured.

 

That left people, businesses and governments in each country indebted to partners in the other, and these complex claims took decades to sort out in tribunals and arbitration. For its part, Iran paid settlements of more than $2.5 billion to U.S. citizens and businesses.

 

The day after the nuclear deal was implemented, the U.S. and Iran announced they had settled the claim over the 1970s military equipment order, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the $400 million principal along with about $1.3 billion in interest. The $400 million was paid in cash and flown to Tehran on a cargo plane, which gave rise to Trump’s dramatic accounts of money stuffed in barrels or boxes and delivered in the dead of night. The arrangement provided for the interest to be paid later, not crammed into containers.

 

Read more AP Fact Checks.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

EPA Proposes to Bar Use of Confidential Data in Rulemaking

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule Tuesday that would stop it from relying on scientific research underpinned by confidential data in its making of regulations.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt billed the measure as a way to boost transparency for the benefit of the industries his agency regulates. But scientists and former EPA officials worry it will hamstring the agency’s ability to protect public health by putting key medical and industry data off limits.

“The science that we use is going to be transparent, it’s going to be reproducible,” Pruitt told a gathering at the EPA.

“It’s going to be able to be analyzed by those in the marketplace, and those that watch what we do can make informed decisions about whether we’ve drawn the proper conclusions or not,” said Pruitt, who has been pursuing President Donald Trump’s mission to ease the regulatory burden on business.

The EPA has for decades relied on scientific research that is rooted in confidential medical and industry data as a basis for its air, water and chemicals rules. While it publishes enormous amounts of research and data to the public, the confidential material is held back.

Business interests have argued the practice is tantamount to writing laws behind closed doors and unfairly prevents them from vetting the research underpinning the EPA’s often costly regulatory requirements. They argue that if the data cannot be published, the rules should not be adopted.

But ex-EPA officials say the practice is vital.

“Other government agencies also use studies like these to develop policy and regulations, and to buttress and defend rules against legal challenges. They are, in fact, essential to making sound public policy,” former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Janet McCabe, former assistant administrator for air and water, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times last month.

The new policy would be based on proposed legislation spearheaded by the chairman of the House Science Committee, Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who denies mainstream climate change science.

Emails obtained through a public records request last week showed that Smith or his staff met with Pruitt’s staff in recent months to craft the policy. Those emails also showed that Pruitt’s staff grappled with the possibility the policy would complicate things for the chemicals industry, which submits reams of confidential data to EPA regulatory programs.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

EPA Proposes to Bar Use of Confidential Data in Rulemaking

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule Tuesday that would stop it from relying on scientific research underpinned by confidential data in its making of regulations.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt billed the measure as a way to boost transparency for the benefit of the industries his agency regulates. But scientists and former EPA officials worry it will hamstring the agency’s ability to protect public health by putting key medical and industry data off limits.

“The science that we use is going to be transparent, it’s going to be reproducible,” Pruitt told a gathering at the EPA.

“It’s going to be able to be analyzed by those in the marketplace, and those that watch what we do can make informed decisions about whether we’ve drawn the proper conclusions or not,” said Pruitt, who has been pursuing President Donald Trump’s mission to ease the regulatory burden on business.

The EPA has for decades relied on scientific research that is rooted in confidential medical and industry data as a basis for its air, water and chemicals rules. While it publishes enormous amounts of research and data to the public, the confidential material is held back.

Business interests have argued the practice is tantamount to writing laws behind closed doors and unfairly prevents them from vetting the research underpinning the EPA’s often costly regulatory requirements. They argue that if the data cannot be published, the rules should not be adopted.

But ex-EPA officials say the practice is vital.

“Other government agencies also use studies like these to develop policy and regulations, and to buttress and defend rules against legal challenges. They are, in fact, essential to making sound public policy,” former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Janet McCabe, former assistant administrator for air and water, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times last month.

The new policy would be based on proposed legislation spearheaded by the chairman of the House Science Committee, Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who denies mainstream climate change science.

Emails obtained through a public records request last week showed that Smith or his staff met with Pruitt’s staff in recent months to craft the policy. Those emails also showed that Pruitt’s staff grappled with the possibility the policy would complicate things for the chemicals industry, which submits reams of confidential data to EPA regulatory programs.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

International Child Abductions Draw Outcry on Capitol Hill

Fighting back tears before a Senate panel, American physician Chris Brann on Tuesday recounted the abduction of his son, Nicholas, who was taken to Brazil in 2012.

“This is best described as a living death,” Brann said in a halting, emotion-laden voice. “He [Nicholas] was 3 years old when he was unilaterally ripped out of my life, moved to a country he had never lived in, to a language he didn’t speak, to a culture he didn’t understand.”

Brann added, “I’ve never been allowed to be there for his birthday, to be there for Christmas. You can’t know what that feels like until you’ve been in that situation. As a father, there are times I feel like a failure because I wasn’t able to protect my boy.”

Hundreds of cases yearly

Nicholas was taken by his Brazilian-born mother, Brann’s ex-wife. The case is not unique. Hundreds of international child abductions by parents are reported in the United States each year.

According to State Department officials, the return rate hovers at about 45 percent. U.S. lawmakers of both parties say America can and must do a better job recovering its youngest citizens and preventing such abductions in the first place.

“There’s more Congress and the executive branch can do to end the kidnapping of these children,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said.

Hague Convention

The United States is one of 82 signatories to the 1980 Hague Convention to combat international child abduction, which commits nations to expeditiously return minors illegally taken abroad by a parent.

U.S. law also speaks to the issue. The 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act established federal penalties for a parent who removes a child from the United States in violation of another parent’s custodial rights.

The 2014 International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act gives the State Department wide latitude to punish nations that fail to cooperate in resolving overseas abduction cases involving American children, from public condemnations to suspending U.S. developmental and security assistance to canceling state visits.

Testifying before the Judiciary Committee, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch admitted the department has used the 2014 law’s provisions sparingly, issuing diplomatic protests rather than imposing stronger measures on nations that do not assist in the return of abducted U.S. children.

“Continued diplomatic engagement is our best tool to promote long-term institutional changes in foreign governments,” Risch said.

‘We’re so sorry’

Brann disagreed, noting that nothing the State Department has done so far has convinced Brazil’s judiciary to reunite him with his son. Brann compared the State Department’s reluctance to sternly punish uncooperative countries to a doctor who refuses to use the strongest medical tools to treat an illness.

“When the State Department says we are going to continue to engage diplomatically, what they are saying is that they are just going to pat me on the shoulder and say, ‘We’re so sorry that has happened,’ ” he said.

Another witness testified to the power of heightened pressure on foreign countries. In 2011, Kentucky resident Noelle Hunter’s ex-husband took their 5-year-old daughter, Muna, to Mali. The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, spearheaded a sustained effort by Kentucky’s congressional delegation to compel Malian officials to return Muna. The campaign succeeded and Hunter brought her daughter back to America in 2014.

“If every member of Congress with kidnapped constituents would begin to regularly inquire of federal agencies and the [foreign] nations in which they are held, these children are going to come home,” Hunter said.

A numbers problem

The committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, applauded the concept of increased activism by lawmakers, but noted that her state, California, has hundreds of parents with a child missing abroad and only two senators representing all of them.

“How do you do 300 cases [in California] like your state was able to do for you?” Feinstein asked, adding that an intervention by members of Congress is “possible to do, but it’s not possible to do it every day of the year.”

Rather, Feinstein said, the solution is to “increase the clout of the State Department and others to move more personally on this [issue].”

Federal officials stressed that preventing abduction is the best outcome, adding that a program is in place to mobilize U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents when a child at risk of international abduction is identified.

“We can enter lookouts in our system if there are any attempts to travel [depart the United States],” said Don Conroy, who directs the agency’s National Targeting Center. “Returning the child is sometimes very complex. Prevention is a key piece of this.”

Lawmakers of both parties stressed they want to see more done.

“I’ve seen the extremes we go to to recover people who have been held hostage and the like, but we’re not doing that for children,” New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker said.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

International Child Abductions Draw Outcry on Capitol Hill

Fighting back tears before a Senate panel, American physician Chris Brann on Tuesday recounted the abduction of his son, Nicholas, who was taken to Brazil in 2012.

“This is best described as a living death,” Brann said in a halting, emotion-laden voice. “He [Nicholas] was 3 years old when he was unilaterally ripped out of my life, moved to a country he had never lived in, to a language he didn’t speak, to a culture he didn’t understand.”

Brann added, “I’ve never been allowed to be there for his birthday, to be there for Christmas. You can’t know what that feels like until you’ve been in that situation. As a father, there are times I feel like a failure because I wasn’t able to protect my boy.”

Hundreds of cases yearly

Nicholas was taken by his Brazilian-born mother, Brann’s ex-wife. The case is not unique. Hundreds of international child abductions by parents are reported in the United States each year.

According to State Department officials, the return rate hovers at about 45 percent. U.S. lawmakers of both parties say America can and must do a better job recovering its youngest citizens and preventing such abductions in the first place.

“There’s more Congress and the executive branch can do to end the kidnapping of these children,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said.

Hague Convention

The United States is one of 82 signatories to the 1980 Hague Convention to combat international child abduction, which commits nations to expeditiously return minors illegally taken abroad by a parent.

U.S. law also speaks to the issue. The 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act established federal penalties for a parent who removes a child from the United States in violation of another parent’s custodial rights.

The 2014 International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act gives the State Department wide latitude to punish nations that fail to cooperate in resolving overseas abduction cases involving American children, from public condemnations to suspending U.S. developmental and security assistance to canceling state visits.

Testifying before the Judiciary Committee, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch admitted the department has used the 2014 law’s provisions sparingly, issuing diplomatic protests rather than imposing stronger measures on nations that do not assist in the return of abducted U.S. children.

“Continued diplomatic engagement is our best tool to promote long-term institutional changes in foreign governments,” Risch said.

‘We’re so sorry’

Brann disagreed, noting that nothing the State Department has done so far has convinced Brazil’s judiciary to reunite him with his son. Brann compared the State Department’s reluctance to sternly punish uncooperative countries to a doctor who refuses to use the strongest medical tools to treat an illness.

“When the State Department says we are going to continue to engage diplomatically, what they are saying is that they are just going to pat me on the shoulder and say, ‘We’re so sorry that has happened,’ ” he said.

Another witness testified to the power of heightened pressure on foreign countries. In 2011, Kentucky resident Noelle Hunter’s ex-husband took their 5-year-old daughter, Muna, to Mali. The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, spearheaded a sustained effort by Kentucky’s congressional delegation to compel Malian officials to return Muna. The campaign succeeded and Hunter brought her daughter back to America in 2014.

“If every member of Congress with kidnapped constituents would begin to regularly inquire of federal agencies and the [foreign] nations in which they are held, these children are going to come home,” Hunter said.

A numbers problem

The committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, applauded the concept of increased activism by lawmakers, but noted that her state, California, has hundreds of parents with a child missing abroad and only two senators representing all of them.

“How do you do 300 cases [in California] like your state was able to do for you?” Feinstein asked, adding that an intervention by members of Congress is “possible to do, but it’s not possible to do it every day of the year.”

Rather, Feinstein said, the solution is to “increase the clout of the State Department and others to move more personally on this [issue].”

Federal officials stressed that preventing abduction is the best outcome, adding that a program is in place to mobilize U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents when a child at risk of international abduction is identified.

“We can enter lookouts in our system if there are any attempts to travel [depart the United States],” said Don Conroy, who directs the agency’s National Targeting Center. “Returning the child is sometimes very complex. Prevention is a key piece of this.”

Lawmakers of both parties stressed they want to see more done.

“I’ve seen the extremes we go to to recover people who have been held hostage and the like, but we’re not doing that for children,” New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker said.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Flying Taxi Start-Up Hires Designer Behind Modern Mini, Fiat 500

Lilium, a German start-up with Silicon Valley-scale ambitions to put electric “flying taxis” in the air next decade, has hired Frank Stephenson, the designer behind iconic car brands including 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 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour, with a range of 300 km 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.

“What’s so incredibly exciting about this is we’re not talking about modifying a car to take to the skies, and we are not talking about modifying a helicopter to work in a better way.”

Stephenson recalled working at Ferrari a dozen years ago and thinking it was the greatest job a grown-up kid could ever want.

But the limits of working at such a storied carmaker dawned on him: “I always had to make a car that looked like a Ferrari.”

His move to McLaren, where he worked from 2008 until 2017, freed him to design a new look and design language from scratch: “That was as good as it gets for a designer,” he said.

Lilium is developing a five-seat flying electric vehicle for commuters after tests in 2017 of a two-seat jet capable of a mid-air transition from hover mode, like drones, into wing-borne flight, like conventional aircraft.

Combining these two features is what separates Lilium from rival start-ups working on so-called flying cars or taxis that rely on drone or helicopter-like technologies, such as German rival Volocopter or European aerospace giant Airbus.

“If the competitors come out there with their hovercraft or drones or whatever type of vehicles, they’ll have their own distinctive look,” Stephenson said.

“Let the other guys do whatever they want. The last thing I want to do is anything that has been done before.”

The jet, with power consumption per kilometer comparable to an electric car, could offer passenger flights at prices taxis now charge but at speeds five times faster, Lilium has said.

Nonetheless, flying cars face many hurdles, including convincing regulators and the public that their products can be used safely. Governments are still grappling with regulations for drones and driverless cars.

Lilium has raised more than $101 million in early-stage funding from backers including an arm of China’s Tencent and Atomico and Obvious Ventures, the venture firms, respectively, of the co-founders of Skype and Twitter.    

 

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Flying Taxi Start-Up Hires Designer Behind Modern Mini, Fiat 500

Lilium, a German start-up with Silicon Valley-scale ambitions to put electric “flying taxis” in the air next decade, has hired Frank Stephenson, the designer behind iconic car brands including 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 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour, with a range of 300 km 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.

“What’s so incredibly exciting about this is we’re not talking about modifying a car to take to the skies, and we are not talking about modifying a helicopter to work in a better way.”

Stephenson recalled working at Ferrari a dozen years ago and thinking it was the greatest job a grown-up kid could ever want.

But the limits of working at such a storied carmaker dawned on him: “I always had to make a car that looked like a Ferrari.”

His move to McLaren, where he worked from 2008 until 2017, freed him to design a new look and design language from scratch: “That was as good as it gets for a designer,” he said.

Lilium is developing a five-seat flying electric vehicle for commuters after tests in 2017 of a two-seat jet capable of a mid-air transition from hover mode, like drones, into wing-borne flight, like conventional aircraft.

Combining these two features is what separates Lilium from rival start-ups working on so-called flying cars or taxis that rely on drone or helicopter-like technologies, such as German rival Volocopter or European aerospace giant Airbus.

“If the competitors come out there with their hovercraft or drones or whatever type of vehicles, they’ll have their own distinctive look,” Stephenson said.

“Let the other guys do whatever they want. The last thing I want to do is anything that has been done before.”

The jet, with power consumption per kilometer comparable to an electric car, could offer passenger flights at prices taxis now charge but at speeds five times faster, Lilium has said.

Nonetheless, flying cars face many hurdles, including convincing regulators and the public that their products can be used safely. Governments are still grappling with regulations for drones and driverless cars.

Lilium has raised more than $101 million in early-stage funding from backers including an arm of China’s Tencent and Atomico and Obvious Ventures, the venture firms, respectively, of the co-founders of Skype and Twitter.    

 

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!