James Dyson Reveals The Electric Car That Almost Was

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You can almost hear the voice of Winston Churchill as James Dyson talks about his “electric car that almost was.” “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Dyson blew $600 million on his electric car project before deciding it was not commercially viable — at least not now. Dyson is the wealthiest Brit according to the Sunday Times Magazine, which interviewed Dyson in the process of compiling its annual Rich List. His fortune is estimated at £16.2 billion.

Dyson is the living embodiment of another Churchillian nostrum: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” He tells The Times, “There’s huge sadness and disappointment. Ours is a life of risk and of failure. We try things and they fail. Life isn’t easy.”

Moving forward with no loss of enthusiasm is what James Dyson does. He tells the Times that some of the 600 people who worked on the electric car are now busy finding ways to commercialize the battery and self-driving technologies they developed for the project. In an email to employees last October, Dyson said the company would now “concentrate on the formidable task of manufacturing solid-state batteries” as well as other “fundamental” technologies such as machine learning and AI.

The Car Itself

What was this beast that James Dyson and his band of merry pranksters created? As reported by Engadget, the 2.6-ton, 7-passenger beast was 5 meters long, 2 meters wide and 1.7 meters high — sort of a cross between a Land Rover and an Escalade, in other words. Two electric motors rated at 200 kW each (536 horsepower total and 480 ft-lb of torque) propelled it to 62 km/h in 4.8 seconds on its way to a top speed of 125 miles per hour.

Careful readers will note the Tesla Model X also seats 7 but accelerates faster and has a higher top speed. What it doesn’t have is the range of the Dyson prototype — 600 miles according to James Dyson as measured by the WLTP standard. For comparison purposes, Engadget says the Tesla Model S is rated at 379 miles WLTP and the Model X at 314 miles WLTP. Dyson says with its solid state battery technology, the car could achieve that range “even on a freezing February night, on the naughty side of 70 mph on the motorway, with the heater on and the radio at full blast.”

Not Commercially Viable

Dyson says he pulled the plug on his electric car project after it became clear it would need to sell for at least £150,000 to be profitable. There is only one prototype in existence and it is rumored to be garaged somewhere in the English countryside. But that doesn’t mean Dyson isn’t ready to jump back into the electric car game if he can figure out a way to make money doing so in the future.

Dyson electric car interior
Image credit: Dyson

Self-driving technology enhanced by artificial intelligence could be marketed to other companies as could the innovative heads-up display that floats in front of the driver “like a hologram,” according to Dyson. He says he is open to sharing that solid state battery technology with other companies. Dyson may never make an entire car with his name on it, but the components created for this project could become important parts of electric cars from other manufacturers — and profit centers for his company — in the future.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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