The Dyson electric car that wasn’t to be
In an exclusive interview with The Times, the British inventor and billionaire, James Dyson, admits he put more than £500 million (€567 million) of his own money in the electric car that ultimately wasn’t to be. It would have been a Range Rover-like giant SUV with a promised range of 600 miles or 960 km (WLTP).
According to The Times, the car called the project ‘N526’ internally, is a seven-seater of over five meters long, two meters wide, weighing 2,6 tons. It has twin 200 kW electric motors for a total of 536 hp, giving it a top speed of 125 mph (201 kph) and accelerating from 0 to 100 kph in 4,8 seconds.
Apparently, those performances were based on Dyson’s propriety solid-state battery technology that promises to keep up performance and range even “on a cold February night at top speeds allowed on highways”. Dyson told The Times he’s open, however, to the idea to let other carmakers use the technology.
The interior was to look like a futuristic concept car with slim seats, and a windscreen tilted more than one of a super sports car. The dashboard was to be very ‘Spartan’, with all functions of the vehicle projected on the windscreen via a head-up display (HUD).
Too expensive to sell
Ultimately, Dyson’s dream car became too expensive to compete with other electric cars on the market. It would have to be sold at £150 000 (€170 000), while a Tesla X, also a seven-seater retails at €109 000. Offering twice the range of the latter, the Dyson car’s price would still be hard to justify.
In October last year, Dyson decided to pull the plug. He announced in an email to his staff he and his board of directors saw no future for it as it turns out to be ‘unsaleable’. “Our automotive team has developed a fantastic electric car, but we don’t see how we can make it commercially viable,” he wrote.
Dyson said they tried to find someone to take over the project, but they didn’t succeed. “The Dyson board has, therefore, taken the difficult decision to propose the closure of our automotive project.” Even after losing ‘half a million quid’, 73-year-old James Dyson won’t have to scrape a living, as he is heading the Sunday Times Rich List 2020 with an estimated fortune of £16,2 billion (€18,3 billion).
Dyson was dreaming of building his own car brand since 1998, but in 2017 he took the plunge by setting aside 2,5 billion pounds (2,8 billion euros) and hired 520 engineers for the development of an electric car.
Dyson never showed anything concrete of the car he was developing and didn’t give details either, but he told the British GQ magazine in an interview in October last year that it might even not look like a classic car we know. “What we’re doing will be rather radical,” he said.
The looks of the car would be defined by engineering, not by product designers, and the company “wouldn’t have started to do it if it didn’t feel it could do something that radically rethinks what that thing fundamentally is,” as Dyson put it at that time.
Although it might sound weird, a manufacturer of cordless vacuum cleaners, hand dryers, air purifiers, and robot vacuum cleaners can develop something like a complete car, Dyson has several patented technologies he could build upon.
Double battery capacity
Maybe most important of all is the battery technology Dyson is already using for the cordless appliances, and the work the company is doing on developing the technology of the solid-state battery. These batteries should double the capacity of today’s lithium-ion batteries with liquid electrolytes and are safer to use, as they don’t risk catching fire, like lithium-ion batteries sometimes do.
Now that the electric car is ditched, Dyson sees opportunities to redirect part of the 2,5 billion pounds to develop the batteries further and work on other technologies, like artificial intelligence, sensors, and imaging technology, and robotics as well.