The abandoned electric car shared visual similarities with another British brand’s SUV.
The abandoned electric car shared visual similarities with another British brand’s SUV.

This car cost nearly a billion dollars

The British inventor and designer behind some of the world's favourite vacuums has revealed fresh details about his company's electric car project, and why it was abandoned.

Sir James Dyson founded his eponymous technology company in 1991 after coming up with the idea for the bagless, cyclonic vacuum.

Over the years the company became known for its premium design and innovation, evolving from vacuums to make things like air purifiers and hand dryers for bathrooms, and recently expanded into hair care with the addition of (very expensive) hair dryers and straighteners.

But the 73-year-old businessman has now revealed further details about one of the company's more exciting projects: the now abandoned attempts to build an electric car.

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Sir James Dyson admires the abandoned Dyson electric car he said he personally poured more than $900 million into.
Sir James Dyson admires the abandoned Dyson electric car he said he personally poured more than $900 million into.

In a blog post on the Dyson website, the billionaire describes how the program evolved and why it was shut down.

He said he'd always been disgusted by the plumes of black smoke emitting from a car's exhaust, but a 1983 trip to a special lab in the United States where he could test his cyclonic vacuum technology first put him on the path to doing something about it.

After seeing a US Bureau of Mines report on the emissions of diesel particulates that suggested they contributed to heart attacks, cancer and other health problems, he began working on ways to reduce the dangerous particulates in the emissions.

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The abandoned electric car shared visual similarities with another British brand’s SUV.
The abandoned electric car shared visual similarities with another British brand’s SUV.

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While this helped, a general ambivalence towards electric vehicles by the traditional automotive industry prompted him to apply the expertise Dyson had developed to an electric vehicle of its own.

"When we had other technologies of our own, like batteries and motors, we returned to the problem and started developing a car," Sir Dyson said.

"We put together an exceptional team, built world-class facilities and developed a radical car which was loaded with technology.

"We solved lots of problems that are traditionally associated with electric vehicles and together the team made great progress and delivered a car which was ready for production."

So where is it then?

Dyson abandoned the project after it couldn’t find a way to make it commercially viable in the face of increased competition.
Dyson abandoned the project after it couldn’t find a way to make it commercially viable in the face of increased competition.

The program was abandoned after one of those traditional automotive companies suffered perhaps its biggest scandal that, alongside building cars for Adolf Hitler, stains its reputation to this day.

Volkswagen was exposed for cheating diesel emissions tests in 2015.

Dyson said that after that happened, traditional automakers suddenly realised electric cars were their best chance in the future and began shifting to electric vehicle development "almost overnight".

He said this tanked his company's ability to compete in the market.

"Electric cars are considerably more expensive to make and manufacturers are making big losses on the sale of each car," he said.

"These losses matter less to them because the sales of electric cars allow them to offset against selling traditional vehicles on which they make a good profit."

But that luxury wasn't afforded to Dyson.

"As a technology-based car - being developed by a non-automotive company - we realised that our car was suddenly no longer commercially viable."

That's quite a sting for a man who said he personally invested £500 million ($A907 million) in the project, but that's chump change for Dyson, whose estimated $A29.4 billion fortune makes him Britain's richest man, according to the Sunday Times.

A look inside the platform that was supposed to turn Dyson into a carmaker.
A look inside the platform that was supposed to turn Dyson into a carmaker.

He said it was a difficult decision to close the program but that it had still delivered benefits.

"Hundreds of engineers, scientists and designers, had poured everything into the project and it was a great engineering achievement, but I have no regrets about having started the program."

"We learned a lot and Dyson has benefited from a huge influx of engineering talent from the automotive industry - it has quickly been applied in other areas of our research and development," he said.

Dyson's car was developed from the wheels up and was designed to be a "body-on-frame" platform that meant it could use the same base for different models.

This technique was the main way cars have been made in the past but advances in manufacturing that allow for better designs means that body-on-frame construction is now primarily left for big utes and SUVs.

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The platform was hoped to support other models in the future as well.
The platform was hoped to support other models in the future as well.

But because body-on-frame cars are easier to make and don't require as much machinery, there's been somewhat of a resurgence as companies begin making small numbers of electric cars, that don't justify their own specialist assembly styles.

BMW's i3 is another example of a modern body-on-frame design.

The first model Dyson planned to put on the platform was an SUV, similar in style to the Range Rover Evoque.

The car was also planned to feature adjustable suspension that could lower the car at high speeds and raised it higher when more ground clearance was required.

The ground clearance was also helped by the fact the car had a completely flat bottom, which designers can achieve in an electric car but is much harder in a traditional vehicle.

The car was designed with the idea of using special developed Dyson digital electric motors at the front and rear of the car.

The seats are one of the weirder parts of the car, but you’ll never get to sit in them.
The seats are one of the weirder parts of the car, but you’ll never get to sit in them.

While on the outside the car doesn't look that far removed from some of the more adventurous designs on the road today, the inside looks nothing like you'd expect.

Because the designers didn't need to accommodate things like engines and exhaust pipes, and the car's wheels were mounted at the very edge-corners of the vehicle, there was plenty of interior space, and Dyson decided to try some new things with it.

The seats that would have come in Dyson's car look nothing like the traditional bucket seat and would look more at home in a designer furniture store.

Sir Dyson said seat design was another thing he hated about traditional cars.

"I hate the 1930s armchair look that car seats typically have and I haven't yet found a car seat that has proper lumbar support. We wanted a more elegant, structural seat, with well-considered posture support."

The former WWII hangar Dyson is now using for ventilators after the closure of the electric car development.
The former WWII hangar Dyson is now using for ventilators after the closure of the electric car development.

The same air filtration technology that goes into Dyson's air purifiers was going to be used to control the car's air temperature and cleanliness, and a heads-up display and steering wheel controls were designed to keep the driver's eyes on the road.

As its electric vehicle program was expanded the company purchased an old WWII airfield from the UK government to use as a facility.

That former airfield facility is now being used by Dyson for its COVID-19 ventilator project, after the electric car project was scrapped in October last year.

 

Originally published as This car cost nearly a billion dollars



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