Dyson says its electric car project was no longer "commercially viable"
Dyson has axed its £2.5 billion electric car project in a dramatic u-turn, the company’s boss Sir James Dyson has revealed.
In an official statement, Dyson said that the project could not be made “commercially viable” and that a “thorough” process to try and find a buyer has been “unsuccessful”.
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The electric car, which was expected to be a high-riding crossover, was due to be launched onto the market in 2021. Dyson added that “this is not a product failure, or a failure of the team – their achievements have been immense given the enormity and complexity of the project”.
Dyson’s car division employs around 500 people in the UK. The firm said that it is working to find alternative roles within the company for staff. Dyson added: “For those who cannot, or do not wish to find alternative roles, we will support them fairly and with the respect deserved. This is a challenging time for our colleagues and I appreciate your understanding and sensitivity as we consult with those who are affected.”
Dyson will continue to look into the development of solid state batteries, however, which the firm said will “benefit Dyson in a profound way and take us in exciting new directions.”
The official statement concluded: “Since day one we have taken risks and dared to challenge the status quo with new products and technologies. Such an approach drives progress, but has never been an easy journey – the route to success is never linear. This is not the first project which has changed direction and it will not be the last.”
Dyson’s electric car: what could have been
The first details Dyson’s electric emerged at the beginning of 2019, after patents awarded to the firm were made public. The British technology company was considering seven-seat crossover with unusually large wheels for a vehicle of its size. Our exclsuive image previewed how it could have looked when it was due to arrive in 2021.
Dyson emailed the Auto Express office, stating: “The patents certainly don’t reveal what our vehicle will really look like, but they provide a glimpse of some of the inventive steps that we are considering. They suggest some of the ways in which this vehicle could differ from the status quo and depict a vehicle which has been developed, from the bottom up, with range and efficiency in mind from the outset.”
The profile drawings in the patents show a vehicle that appears to mix both SUV and saloon design traits – lifting the cabin space up (presumably to facilitate battery installation in the floor), while still keeping the roofline and centre of gravity reasonably low. As a result, the seats appear to be reclined significantly more than you’d find on many conventional SUVs.
The patent documents reflect this, saying: “The ground clearance of the vehicle in the illustrated embodiment is about 300mm, which is comparatively high as compared to saloon or sedan-like vehicles, although the front row of passengers are supported within the vehicle in a more low-down, sedan-like seating position”. And it adds, “The driver has a reclined seating position typical of a saloon or sedan vehicle.”
Dyson was proposing to give the car a relatively long wheelbase – between 3,200mm and 3,350mm – to accommodate this; the firm says this could have helped to improve ride quality, as well as allowing a larger battery pack beneath the cabin for increased range.
Further documents say that the example vehicle could be between 1,600mm and 1,800mm high and that it would be “preferably between 4,700mm and 5,000mm in length”, and probably no longer than 5,100mm.
These numbers are indicative at best, but they would deliver a car that’s the same height as a Range Rover Sport but, potentially, longer overall than the full-fat Range Rover. The vehicle width “may be less than 1,975mm”, which would make it wider than a Velar but narrower than a Range Rover Sport.
The ground clearance envisaged by Dyson would be higher than the large Range Rover’s, though, and the proposed wheelbases could be longer than even that of a Rolls-Royce Cullinan.
Dyson’s patent document also says that the illustration shows a car with 24-inch wheels, and that the car may have wheels whose outer diameter comprises 45 to 55 per cent of the overall vehicle height. This is particularly clear from the front-on drawing of the illustrative vehicle, which shows how much of the wheel would be within the car’s body – and how the narrow choice of tyre would help minimise intrusion into the cabin. Dyson says this engineering choice would also help to avoid aquaplaning, give better grip in snowy conditions and reduce aerodynamic drag.
In Dyson’s email, he also told his employees, “I’ve long been fascinated by wheels and how they were used in engineering icons like the Issigonis Mini and the Moulton bike. I suppose we’ve essentially considered the opposite! The patents show a car with very large wheels, giving a low rolling resistance and high ground clearance. This makes a vehicle suited to city life and rough terrain, but could also contribute to increased range and efficiency.”
He does add, however, “It is important to keep this in perspective and remember that we do not always use patents or make products based on patents that we have filed.”
The documents make no reference to which battery technology the Dyson car will use. Dyson himself has previously stated that his team are evaluating a number of next-generation solid-state battery technologies, although there has been speculation that these systems may not be ready in time for the car’s arrival on the market, forcing the use of existing lithium-ion technology instead.
Dyson concluded his note to staff by saying the project is “on track to launch in 2021” although depending on his definition of “launch”, this may, in fact, represent a small delay compared with his initial statements, when he said, “We hope to bring out an all-electric car in 2020.”
Dyson electric was to be built in Singapore
The Dyson electric car was to be produced at a factory in Singapore. The UK firm has 500 staff working in a Wiltshire R&D centre on its EV, however the new electric vehicle was going to be made in the Asian country, where Dyson already has a factory producing digital motors.
Construction had already begun on the new plant and it was due to be completed in 2020, in line with Dyson’s plans to start selling its electric vehicle by 2021.
In a letter to staff, Dyson’s CEO Jim Rowan said: “Singapore offers access to high-growth markets, as well as an extensive supply chain and a highly- skilled workforce. It has a comparatively high cost base, but also a strong bias towards developing and using advanced technologies.
“It is therefore the right place to make high-quality, technology-loaded machines, and the right place to make our electric vehicle,” Rowan added.
Dyson’s UK testing facility
Although construction of Dyson’s EV will take place in Singapore, the new car was being developed at Hullavington, an ex-RAF airbase in Wiltshire. Dyson submitted a new planning proposal to develop the facility, taking its investment in the site to more than £200m.
The plans show a range of test tracks that Dyson claims total more than 10 miles. These routes include a dynamic handling track, a large asphalt area to evaluate vehicle stability control systems, an off-road route, a fast-road route designed to replicate motorway driving, test slopes and a handling circuit.
Dyson had restored two of Hullavington’s 1938 hangars to accommodate the 500 staff who work there, and the site is continuing to grow.
Rowan said: “Our growing automotive team is working from Dyson’s state-of-the-art hangars at Hullavington. It will quickly become a world-class testing campus where we hope to invest £200m, creating more high-skilled jobs for Britain. We are now firmly focused on the next stage of our automotive project, strengthening our credentials as a global research and development organisation.”
The Dyson electric car engineering project is being led by former Aston Martin man Ian Minards. The firm recently applied to extend its ‘Digital Motor’ trademark to automotive use – a sign that it plans to use its strength in the domestic products business to gain credibility for its first car.
Click onto page two for our interview with Sir James Dyson…