LONDON -- James Dyson, billionaire inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, said his company was building an electric car that will launch by 2020. Dyson is the latest company to challenge traditional carmakers in a burgeoning market.
Tesla has already shaken up the sector and Dyson said his company would now spend 2 billion pounds ($2.7 billion) to exploit its expertise in solid-state battery technology and electric motors to be found in his innovative vacuum cleaners and other products such as bladeless fans and air purifiers.
"Battery technology is very important to Dyson, electric motors are very important to Dyson, environmental control is very important to us," Dyson, aged 71, said on Tuesday at his company's flagship shop on London's Oxford Street. "I have been developing these technologies consistently because I could see that one day we could do a car."
He told staff in an email that the company finally had the opportunity to bring all its technologies together into a single product. "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," he added.
Dyson said a 400-strong team of engineers had already spent 2-1/2 years working on the secret project in Malmesbury, England, developing the batteries that will power the in-house designed electric motor for the car.
The company was backing solid-state rather than the lithium ion technology used in existing electric vehicles because it was safer, the batteries would not overheat, were quicker to charge and potentially more powerful, he said.
Dyson said his ambition to go it alone was driven by the car industry's dismissal of an idea he had of applying his cyclonic technology that revolutionized vacuum cleaners to handle diesel emissions in car exhaust systems in the 1990s.
"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 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, he 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," Dyson 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."
Last year, the UK government said in a report it was helping to fund a new battery electric vehicle at the firm, which will secure 174 million pounds ($233 million) of investment in the area and create over 500 jobs. The entry was quickly changed and Dyson declined to comment at the time in a sign of the secrecy shrouding the project.
Dyson has been hiring executives from British automakers including Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover. Aston Martin’s former director of purchasing, David Wyer, joined Dyson as head of procurement in August. Benjamin Strong, formerly the Range Rover platform engineering manager at Jaguar Land Rover’s SVO division, joined Dyson in May as operations manager.
Last year Aston Martin’s product development director, Ian Minards, moved to Dyson with the same title. Also joining last year from Aston Martin was its senior aerodynamicist Peter Rawcliffe, who took the same title at Dyson.
BMW’s retiring head of global sales, Ian Robertson, is a non-executive director at Dyson.
Bloomberg and Nick Gibbs contributed to this report