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Guest opinion: Dyson's electric car production plan could pay off

Professor of innovation at the University of Kent's Business School, Jeremy Howells

Dyson's plans to make all-electric cars by 2020 could be a success due to the companies private status and technical capabilities. 

The announcement that Dyson intends to develop an all-electric car by 2020 marks a further watershed for the company led by the exuberant entrepreneur and founder, Sir James Dyson.

The company, which grew in the early 1990s out of its radical, new vacuum cleaner based on cyclonic separation, has recently moved into other consumer electrical products, such as its airblade hand dryers, fans and 'supersonic' hair dryers, LED lamps and, even briefly, the discontinued contrarotator washing machines.

However, the move into car production is much more radical in nature for the company, emerging as a major UK based disruptor in the car industry; together with Elon Musk's Tesla US based car company, in the (now) fast changing global motor industry.

Some observers may say this is a step too far for Dyson, but the key technologies in this disruption, electric motors and batteries, is something which the company has long established core technical capabilities which will stand it in good stead.

Moreover, together with its wider design flair and engineering capability and that the fact it is a private company (with 'patient capital') has meant that Dyson has the confidence and long term resources to develop the car using in-house expertise.

Some £1 billion already been invested in the project (with a further £1 billion on related battery technology), with some 400 engineers working on the new electric car at its HQ and main research and development (R&D) site at Malmersbury, Wiltshire.

Undoubtedly Dyson will, at some stage, need specialist technical and engineering from outside, but the UK has a rich base of specialist engineering companies in the motor and F1 business from which to call upon for this.

The project has therefore a very good chance of success, with the only other disruptive trend in the industry, driverless technology, posing a potential threat to Dyson's ambitions here.  

Interestingly, in this respect, the company notes it is working on a partially driverless capability for the car, but long term it will need to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) to support its long-term objectives in the car industry."

Author: Professor of innovation at the University of Kent's Business School, Jeremy Howells

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