Currently reading: James Dyson: why we’re building an electric car
Britain’s best-known inventor speaks to Autocar about the thinking behind his firm’s electric car project

Sir James Dyson came up with his electric car idea in the 1990s, while experimenting with equipment to collect diesel particulates by centrifugal action. He knew exhaust pollution was harmful, but his attempts to sell clean-up technology were overtaken by official directives suggesting diesels were “clean and green”. Speaking here from his Singapore base, where his cars will be made from 2021, Dyson discusses the car’s design. 

The latest on Dyson's electric car

What is your motivation for making an electric car?

"Nobody was interested in our original exhaust clean-up idea, but we had a bright team developing high-speed electric motors for other Dyson products, we were researching air purification, we had our own aerodynamicists and we were developing solid state batteries. Put those things together and you have the main elements of an electric car."

What’s your view of the sales potential of electric cars?

"Seems to me the industry, and industry commentators, are under-egging the likely growth of the market. People will buy them for the right reasons, because they don’t want to cause pollution. It’s nothing to do with what the industry thinks. The public will decide it wants electric cars."

Your new car looks big and expensive. Where will your car sit in the firmament? Is it a premium product?

"I guess it is. That’s how we generally operate. We’ll make several different versions – different car types, not longer or shorter models. We’re not announcing anything about price yet, but we’re not a mass producer yet. When you go into production for the first time, you can’t be the cheapest. We’ll do our best with that but we’ll be making a big car with a lot of innovation in it, so it won’t be cheap."

What led you to your car’s unique proportions?

"It’s all about efficiency. The high ground clearance and low roof cut the car’s frontal area, which is one of the keys to efficiency. We wanted a car with good ground clearance, and you get that with big wheels. They have low rolling resistance, they’re better in snow and the wet, you can have bigger brakes but you still get a big footprint."

Your patents refer to hydrogen and hybrid power as well as battery propulsion. Will this car be battery only? And will it use solid state batteries? 

"Yes, it will be battery-powered. As for battery type, we’re not revealing that yet. But at the moment we’re researching two different types of solid state battery in four locations – UK, USA, Japan and Singapore."

How important is a long battery range?

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"I believe the public wants electric cars to go as far as possible. You’ve seen our plans: the car has a big battery pack. But aerodynamics and frontal area are also key to having a good range. People don’t want to be filling their cars with electricity to find they’re inefficient. Having efficient motors means that as well as needing less electricity to propel yourself, you make regeneration more effective."

You seem very interested in comfort, and your car’s ground clearance and big wheels suggest lots of wheel travel. Will you use air suspension, adjustable ride height and ride rates?

"Comfort is very important to us, and something we definitely want to deliver. It’s another thing you get from big wheels. The things you mention are on offer to us. I don’t want to reveal what we’re doing, but suspension is a very important area. Pitch is a good example: if you’ve got a long wheelbase, it becomes more controllable. We’re having fun with all of this. It’s an interesting area."

You’ve referred a lot to keeping your car’s weight down. I presume you won’t be making this car from steel?

"No, we’re not up at those sort of production numbers. But we also want to be able to produce in reasonable volume. We don’t think carbonfibre is yet ready for our sort of operation. It’s an interesting experiment, and okay for very small-volume specialist cars. That just leaves one thing, really. I don’t think we have to be too revolutionary about the way we do the chassis. I can confirm the car will have an aluminium body, but that’s as much as I want to say."

What’s your weight target?     

"Everyone knows a battery is heavy, much heavier than an internal combustion engine. But if you do it our way, you get a very low centre of gravity – much lower than an internal combustion car. There is certainly a weight penalty with batteries, but you mitigate it as much as you can, and in any case, it helps you with regeneration."

Once this car is on sale, could you imagine launching cheaper models to attract more people?

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"I think that’s going to depend a lot on the progress of technology. If we’re successful with solid state batteries, that could be a possible moment…" 

When will you reveal more about your car?

"When we launch it. We’re only talking about it now because our patents are going public. We don’t usually talk about products until we launch them. We’re a private company, getting on with our own business."

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Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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MrJ 10 May 2019

Brexit or not, Singapore or

Brexit or not, Singapore or not, Dyson has massive investment in this country, not only in R&D and engineering, but also in education, especially at university level.

My current Dyson is a stick-type cordless, which cleans the whole house on one charge.

Good luck with the car project: he's come a looong way since the Ballbarrow of 1974.


lambo58 10 May 2019

He's left for Singapore

He's left for Singapore because the Brits are great innovators but rubbish at building things efficiently. 

The far east is where efficient building  has to be seen to be believed.

I've seen it and it's true whether you like it or not

Porus 10 May 2019


Their vacuum cleaners are overhyped and nowhere near as reliable as a vax. I can only say from experience and relatives too.