Dyson to launch electric car in 2020

Company to spend £2bn on car and battery technology

Dyson founder James Dyson: “We know this is a crowded market.”

Dyson founder James Dyson: “We know this is a crowded market.”

 

Dyson is working on a premium electric car that it said would go on sale in 2020, as the British invention group enters the motor industry at a time of intense change and disruption.

The company behind the Dyson vacuum cleaner and hand dryers has been working on electric battery technology for almost two decades. Over the past two years it has built up an automotive team of 400 engineers, drawn from manufacturers including BMW, Aston Martin and Tesla, and is preparing to use its research to give it the edge in a ferociously competitive sector.

“We know this is a crowded market,” said founder James Dyson as he announced that the company would spend £2 billion on the car and battery technology. He also predicted that the automotive business would outgrow the rest of the company “quickly”.

It will spend £1 billion on the battery, and £1 billion on designing and making the car itself, with the promise of future models to come to help recoup the investment.

Mr Dyson said he expected to make a profit on the venture. The money is part of a £2.5 billion investment plan that had already been announced by the company. Mr Dyson said the remaining £500 million would be used on the group’s other products.

Dyson will decide where to manufacture the car – either in the UK or possibly the Far East – in the coming months so that it can finalise negotiations with suppliers.

Its entrance into the automotive arena comes as established carmakers face a barrage of challenges to their business models, from the need to invest in electric vehicles and self-driving technology, to the potential for ride-sharing partly replacing traditional ownership in some big cities.

Dyson said it believed its development of solid-state batteries – which can hold higher power and charge in less time than conventional lithium-ion batteries – would help it compete with more established rivals.

Toyota has said it expects to launch cars powered by solid-state batteries in the 2020s, while other manufacturers are also working on comparable technologies in a race to take the edge in the technology that will come to dominate motor vehicles by the middle of this century.

China is mulling a ban for petrol and diesel cars, while France and the UK have announced plans to ban traditionally powered vehicles by 2040.

Dyson’s move represents perhaps the most ambitious step yet by a company that made its name with the bagless vacuum cleaners pioneered by Sir James and launched a quarter of a century ago.

The group has since branched out into other products such as air filters, lighting and hair dryers.

It is already embarking on a broad expansion, including into the development of technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and vision systems.

An area of focus is batteries, as signalled by the 2015 acquisition of Sakti3, a US start-up which specialises in solid-state cells. Although not yet commercialised, the technology is seen as the future of power storage for electric vehicles by many in the industry.

Dyson plans to design and manufacture the new vehicle itself, rather than partnering with existing carmakers, though it will use established suppliers such as tyremakers and other component providers.

It will move its engineers to a former airfield at RAF Hullavington in Wiltshire early next year. The site would be the most likely place to manufacture the car in the UK, Mr Dyson said, though he added that China would be its largest market because of concerns over air quality.

Demand for Dyson’s high-end consumer products, particularly among Asia’s burgeoning middle classes, has fuelled a more than fourfold increase in turnover over the past decade, to £2.5 billion.

The holding company of the Dyson business empire, Weybourne Group, paid total dividends of £111 million in 2016. It lists Sir James as the controlling shareholder.

Dyson manufactures in Asia, though its R&D activities are chiefly located in the UK. While it has achieved commercial success in many areas, a notable exception was its washing machines, which were discontinued. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017