Britain's James Dyson scraps electric car project

The project was not commercially viable, but the UK bagless vacuum cleaner creator said the car was a technical success.

    Many different types of companies have tried to break into the electric-car business, which has proven exceptionally challenging [Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters]
    Many different types of companies have tried to break into the electric-car business, which has proven exceptionally challenging [Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters]

    James Dyson, the inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, has cancelled his ambitious plan to build an electric car because the project was not commercially viable.

    Dyson said that his engineers in the United Kingdom had built a "fantastic car" and that the project was not being closed due to any failures in research and development.

    "However, though we have tried very hard throughout the development process, we simply can no longer see a way to make it commercially viable," he told his staff on Thursday.

    Dyson's eponymous company had tried to find a buyer for the project, but had not succeeded, he said.

    Dyson announced two years ago that his engineers had been working on a secret automotive project, building on his company's expertise in batteries and electric motors to develop a vehicle.

    The company bet that its battery know-how would give it an edge in electric vehicles, but the closure of the project indicates it underestimated the complexity and cost of starting a car company from scratch.

    'Exciting new directions'

    United States company Tesla is the only new large player that has broken into the market for electric cars. But it consumed billions of dollars in investor capital, and has yet to produce a full-year profit.

    Mainstream manufacturers have also ramped up investment in electric engines to meet much-toughened anti-pollution rules.

    Volkswagen, the world's largest passenger car maker, is investing 80 billion euros ($88bn) to mass produce electric cars, starting with the launch of its ID Vehicle, which hits showrooms next year.

    Dyson selected Singapore - a country that does not have any existing car manufacturing - to build the car, which was targeted at markets in China and elsewhere in Asia.

    It was constructing a two-storey manufacturing facility in the city-state, with building scheduled for completion in 2020 and with the first cars expected to roll off production lines a year later.

    Some 500 engineers were working on the project, mostly based at the company's site in Malmesbury and Hullavington in southwest England.

    Dyson said the company was working to find alternative roles for as many of the engineers as possible within other areas of its business, which makes air purifiers, fans and hairdryers as well as cleaners.

    Although Dyson is closing its automotive division, it said it would continue to develop solid-state batteries, and other technologies including vision systems, robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

    "Our battery will benefit Dyson in a profound way and take us in exciting new directions," the company's 72-year-old founder said.

    Dyson said his company had always taken risks and dared to challenge the status quo with new products and technologies, an approach that has paid off handsomely in its sales of vacuum cleaners.

    "Such an approach drives progress, but has never been an easy journey – the route to success is never linear," he said. "This is not the first project which has changed direction, and it will not be the last."

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency