1. The battery tech wasn’t delivering the anticipated results
It was never going to be enough for Dyson to produce a car-like electric car - 300-mile range, conventional design and so on. That moment has passed, with only Tesla breaking through in the Western world and the Chinese makers that are going to win now long established. So whatever Dyson did, it needed to change the game.
James Dyson isn’t a man to give big clues, but his interviews hinted at a battery technology breakthrough, likely focused on solid-state batteries, which hold the promise of dramatically increasing range and lowering charge times all at dramatically lower prices.
Had he bet the farm on making such a breakthrough happen, only to find it harder than expected? Other car companies say that they have had such batteries on test beds for years, but cannot find a way to make productionising them reliably financially viable. Perhaps Dyson hit the same problems.
2. The competition caught up
Maybe, just maybe, Dyson was on to something that could put it ahead of the game - but just as likely is the fact that the mega-budget car makers have closed the gap in the years since he announced his project.
Such is the pace at which the car industry is changing that it’s hard to keep an eye on context, but in the past few years, the Volkswagen Group has committed close to £50 billion to EV research and Toyota has intimated that it has done the same. Other car makers, especially premium German-branded ones, are not far behind. This makes Dyson’s £2bn commitment look a bit paltry.
Could it be - particularly given the high-level advisory board and senior engineers recruited - that Dyson learnt that his breakthrough technology was about to be matched or even superseded by what’s in the pipeline elsewhere? And that the run rate elsewhere would leave his technology with an incredibly short shelf life that meant it would never recoup its investment, let alone generate enough income to keep the required R&D run rate? Maybe someone learnt that Toyota’s pledge to release solid-state technology early into the next decade was about to bear fruit?
Given that whatever he created needed to not just match but beat the opposition to be given any hope of success, there was always a risk that his moment would pass while preparing for it.