Dyson, from vacuum cleaner to electric cars

James Dyson, best known for its vacuum cleaners, is building an electric car. The project has been almost 30 years in the making. Early efforts in the 1990s concentrated on making a so-called cyclonic filter that could be fitted onto a vehicle’s exhaust system to trap diesel fumes. Dyson said the car industry dismissed his idea, fueling his ambition to go it alone.

“We are not a johnny-come-lately onto the scene of electric cars,” he said. “It has been my ambition since 1998 when I was rejected by the industry, which has happily gone on making polluting diesel engines, and governments have gone on allowing it.”

Dyson went back to what he does best manipulating air. The Dyson vacuum cleaner grew to dominate the high end of the market. The company then came out with AirBlade hand-dryers in 1996 and the Air Multiplier bladeless electric fan in 2009, which evolved into a range of air purifiers, humidifiers and heaters.

Revenue soared from 214 million pounds in 2000 to 2.5 billion pounds (USD3.4 billion) last year.

By 2015, the first hints of Dyson’s renewed interest in the automotive industry emerged. The company spent USD90 million acquiring Sakti3, a Michigan-based designer of solid-state batteries. The startup said it had found a way to produce batteries with twice the energy storage potential of standard lithium ion models, at a half to a third of the cost.

Dyson said his electric car would be “radically different” than those being designed by other carmakers, including Tesla. “There’s no point doing something that looks like everyone else’s,” he said. “It is not a sports car and not a very cheap car.”

He said he hopes the vehicle will be just the first of a line of electric vehicles from Dyson and predicted that within a few years electric cars would be the largest source of revenue for the company, eclipsing its existing products.

The car does not yet have a design nor a chassis, Dyson said, and the company had not yet decided where it will be made, beyond ruling out working with the big car companies. “Wherever we make the battery, we’ll make the car, that’s logical,” he said. “So we want to be near our suppliers, we want to be in a place that welcomes us and is friendly to us, and where it is logistically most sensible. And we see a very large market for this car in the Far East.”

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