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British Vacuum Maker Dyson Plans Electric Car Assault

British inventor James Dyson, creator of the Dyson vacuum cleaner (Photo credit PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Is this the blind-siding nightmare the traditional auto industry has been fearing?

British vacuum cleaner maker Dyson announced Tuesday that it is working on what it calls a “premium” electric car that will go on sale in 2020.

This will be the first in a line of battery vehicles, it said.

The company behind the Dyson vacuum cleaner and hand dryers has been working on electric battery technology for almost two decades.

“We know this is a crowded market,” said Dyson founder Sir James Dyson as he announced the company would spend $2.7 billion on the car and battery technology, and predicted the automotive business would “quickly” outgrow the rest of the company. Half will be spent on the battery, and half on design and manufacturing.

Dyson said he expected to make a profit on the venture.

Dyson has long been rumored to be about to enter the electric car business.

CEOs of the big car manufacturers probably have nightmares about waking up to find Google, Apple, Tesla, or maybe even the Chinese have come up with the electric car for the masses which will spell doom for their business.

Even in their most vulnerable moments though did they think this blind-siding torpedo would come from a vacuum cleaner maker.

Dyson has been funded by the British government to develop an electric car.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said in a report last year this is a credible possibility because Dyson uses the types of motors found in electric cars. Not only that, Dyson recently spent $90 million to buy University of Michigan spinoff Sakti3.

“At the time, founder Sir James Dyson suggested the technology would be used for home appliances and not vehicle applications. However, since that acquisition, the company has announced plans to invest $1.4 billion in battery technology over the next five years,” Jonas said then.

“Dyson claims that Sakti3’s solid state technology is potentially smaller, safer, more reliable and longer-lasting than the most advanced lithium-ion batteries on the market today,” Jonas said.

“The potential concern for incumbent players is that true expertise in battery technology, electric motors, etc, may lie with companies like Dyson, LG (of Korea) and not the traditional suppliers/manufacturers which have been focussed on mastering the most dominant powertrain over the last 100 years,” Jonas said.

Dyson sent an email to his staff spelling out his vision:

"By 1993 we had developed several working prototypes and showed an early iteration to British television programme Blue Peter. The team went on to develop a much more sophisticated technology.

To our chagrin, nobody at the time was interested in employing our diesel exhaust capture system and we stopped the project. The industry said that ‘disposing’ of the collected soot was too much of a problem! Better to breathe it in?

In the period since, governments around the world have encouraged the adoption of oxymoronically designated ‘clean diesel’ engines through subsidies and grants. Major auto manufacturers have circumvented and duped clean air regulations As a result, developed and developing cities are full of smog-belching cars, lorries and buses. It is a problem that others are ignoring.

Throughout, it has remained my ambition to find a solution to the global problem of air pollution. Some years ago, observing that automotive firms were not changing their spots, I committed the company to develop new battery technologies. I believed that electrically powered vehicles would solve the vehicle pollution problem. Dyson carried on innovating. The latest digital motors and energy storage systems power the Dyson Supersonic hair dryer and cord-free vacuum line. We’ve relentlessly innovated in fluid dynamics and HVAC systems to build our fans, heaters and purifiers.

At this moment, we finally have the opportunity to bring all our technologies together into a single product. Rather than filtering emissions at the exhaust pipe, today we have the ability to solve it at the source. So I wanted you to hear it directly from me: Dyson has begun work on a battery electric vehicle, due to be launched by 2020.

We’ve started building an exceptional team that combines top Dyson engineers with talented individuals from the automotive industry. The team is already over 400 strong, and we are recruiting aggressively. I’m committed to investing £2bn ($2.7 billion) on this endeavour.

The project will grow quickly from here but at this stage we will not release any information. Competition for new technology in the automotive industry is fierce and we must do everything we can to keep the specifics of our vehicle confidential.

In London, nearly 9,500 people die early each year due to long-term exposure to air pollution according to a study carried out by researchers at King’s College London. The World Health Organisation reports “in 2012 around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure”. It is our obligation to offer a solution to the world’s largest single environmental risk. I look forward to showing you all what I hope will be something quite unique and better, in due course!"

Dyson said 400 engineers had already spent 2-1/2 years working on the project in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, in the west of Britain developing the batteries that will power the in-house designed electric motor for the car.

Dyson said it hasn’t decided where the vehicle would be made, although it has ruled out working with any existing auto companies.

Apart from saying it would be a “premium” product, Dyson gave no hint of the possible price of the product, how big it would be, or how many it would make.

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