James Dyson to invest £2.5bn on ‘radically different’ electric car
British inventor Sir James Dyson has announced plans to build an electric car that will be “radically different” from current models and go on sale in 2020. The billionaire who revolutionised the vacuum cleaner said 400 engineers in Wiltshire had been working since 2015 on the £2.5bn project. No prototype has yet been built, but Dyson said the car’s electric motor was ready, while two different battery types were under development that he claimed were already more efficient than in existing electric cars. Dyson said consumers would have to “wait and see” what the car would look like: “We don’t have an existing chassis … We’re starting from scratch. What we’re doing is quite radical.”
However, he said the design was “all about the technology” and warned that it would be an expensive vehicle to purchase. While he did not name a price, he said: “Maybe the better figure is how much of a deposit they would be prepared to put down.” He said he had long been concerned by diesel particulate pollution and while he had designed filters for such engines, he had concluded that electric vehicles were the best way to progress.
Dyson said: “I’m not a Johnny-come-lately to electric cars. It’s been my ambition since 1998 when I was rejected by the industry that has happily been creating dirty vehicles, and governments have kept on allowing it.” The car will count as a British export, he said, although it will probably be manufactured in the far east. While the UK remained a “frontrunner” for the production base, he added: “We’ll choose the best place to make it and that’s where we’ll make it … Wherever we make the battery, that’s where we will make the car. We see a very large market for this car in the far east … We want to be near where our markets are and I believe the far east has reacted [to electric] more quickly than the UK or Europe.”
He said people in Asia had been far more aware than in Britain of the detrimental health effects of diesel particulate pollution. The cars will be fitted with Dyson’s air purifying technology to protect their drivers: “It’s not the owner of the VW that has the problem, it’s the person driving behind them.” The inventor said he was announcing the extent of his plans after Dyson’s ambition to develop a new form of battery-powered car was accidentally disclosed in a government document last year.
Clues to the direction of travel had come when Dyson, which made its name with the bagless vacuum cleaner and later its “airblade” hand dryers, announced an investment of £1bn in battery technology last year. The recruitment of senior staff from motor manufacturers heightened industry speculation. Dyson has now announced a further £1bn on designing the prototype vehicle and another £500m in associated costs – bringing the total to £2.5bn. Research and development work on the car will continue at a new facility being built on a former second world war airfield at Hullavington, close to Dyson’s headquarters in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
The car is most likely to be a rival to the upmarket vehicles produced by Silicon Valley firm Tesla – another non-traditional car manufacturer founded by a celebrated inventor and engineer, Elon Musk. But Dyson said it “would not be a sports car”. Tesla’s most affordable car, the Model 3, is expected to cost at least £35,000 when it goes on sale in the UK next year, while a Model S costs from £62,000 to £130,000 with add-ons. Dyson has invested in robotics and AI research for its existing products, but the Dyson vehicle is not likely to have any greater degree of autonomy than other new cars. The inventor sounded a sceptical note over driverless cars: “I think that total hands-off driving is some way off.”
Established British car manufacturers are now moving towards building purely electric vehicles, although concerns remain about the cost, the battery technology, and the charging infrastructure. Jaguar Land Rover has announced plans to develop electric or hybrid versions of all its models by 2020, with a fully electric car on sale next year, while BMW has said it would built an electric Mini in Oxford – all following Nissan’s bestselling Leaf, built in Sunderland.