Chinese Company Files 'Strategic' Bankruptcy With Passenger Drone Commercialization Ahead

Flying cars could become a mass-market reality thanks to EHang's unorthodox business move.

Southern Metropolis Daily/VCG via Getty Images

Chinese drone company EHang filed for bankruptcy in May, but according to Chief Financial Officer Richard Liu, that was merely an “internal strategic adjustment” to prep for the commercialization of passenger drones.

If you’ve followed EHang’s successes in the past few years, bankruptcy would be the last thing on your mind. From the triumphant testing of its EHang 184 passenger drone with actual people inside, over a thousand times, and breaking its own Guinness World Record for most drones flown simultaneously, there’s been nothing but good news coming from the Guangzhou-based company...up to now. 

As CFO Liu said at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in Beijing on Thursday, while the company is “considering” additional financing and weighing its options regarding new investors, EHang is supposedly on its way to successful commercialization in the next year. 

“We created the world’s first human-carrying autonomous aerial vehicle and a lot of people know that EHang 184 is serious,” said Liu according to a CNBC report. “There will be a huge market opportunity along this line. Enter into 2018, we have seen clear commercialization momentum.” 

According to Liu, pre-orders for EHang drones for aerial sightseeing and cargo transportation purposes have increased substantially, with United Therapeutics, for example, submitting a 1,000-unit order for its “life-saving scenario” mission to aerially deliver manufactured organs for transplant operations. 

Regarding the EHang 184, there seems to be significant appeal across the UAV industry with passenger drones increasingly garnering steam and this particular vehicle being at the forefront of commercial appeal alongside Workhorse’s SureFly, the Volocopter and Airbus' Vahana project.

The EHang 184, capable of carrying up to 220 pounds for as long as 25 minutes, was first revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2016, where it stunned the audience as the world’s first human-carrying drone. Currently, Liu says the company is preparing serious commercialization efforts for the end of 2018 or early next year. 

Ultimately, we’ll simply have to wait and see what becomes of EHang, with insolvency, albeit allegedly strategic, never being a positive sign. On the other hand, passenger drones are a good way to attract public enthusiasm and subsequent financing considerations. In the next six to nine months, we’ll see how strategic all of this has actually been.

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