End of the road: Dyson crashes out of race to make electric cars

End of the road: Dyson crashes out of race to make electric cars
Founder of the Dyson company James Dyson said his team had developed a ‘fantastic car, but we simply cannot make it commercially viable.’ (AFP)
Updated 12 October 2019

End of the road: Dyson crashes out of race to make electric cars

End of the road: Dyson crashes out of race to make electric cars
  • Inventor vows to press on with $3 billion new tech investment despite abrupt U-turn
  • The plan ran into controversy when the company revealed that its first car plant would be in Singapore

SINGAPORE: British inventor James Dyson has dropped out of the race to produce electric cars in the face of stiff competition and after criticism of the Brexit-backing billionaire’s decision to build the vehicle in Singapore.

Dyson, known for his bagless vacuum cleaners and bladeless fans, announced two years ago that he was investing £2 billion ($2.5 billion) in developing an electric car, and the first vehicles were expected in 2021.

The ambitious project catapulted the 72-year-old entrepreneur into competition against established players such as US firm Tesla and car makers from the US to China.

Adding to his difficulties, the plan ran into controversy when the company revealed that its first car plant would be in Singapore and its global headquarters were shifting to the affluent city-state.

Dyson insisted it was to be closer to booming Asian markets — but there was fury that the tycoon was not investing more in UK manufacturing after vocally supporting Britain’s exit from the EU.

There had, however, been little indication that Dyson was having second thoughts about the high-profile project, which hundreds of employees were already working on, until an announcement late Thursday of the abrupt U-turn.

Dyson said that his team had developed a “fantastic car” based on an “ingenious” approach, but added: “Though we have tried very hard throughout the development process, we simply cannot make it commercially viable.”

“We have been through a serious process to find a buyer for the project which has, unfortunately, been unsuccessful so far,” he said.

There are 523 people in the automotive team, most in Britain, and 22 in Singapore, a spokesman said. Dyson said “as many of the team as possible” would be reassigned to other roles in the company.

Singapore government agency the Economic Development Board predicted the decision to ditch the project would have a minimal disruption on Dyson’s operations in the Asian trading hub.

In May, Dyson unveiled brief details of patents filed for the electric car and said it would be more energy-efficient than rivals — and with “very large wheels” for city and rough-terrain driving.

But analysts were skeptical about the plan and not surprised about the change of heart.

“From the first instance it was always difficult to understand why Dyson thought that it would have any sort of competitive advantage in actually embarking on this project,” Walter Theseira, a transport economist at Singapore University of Social Sciences, said.

“Selling a successful electric car is a high-capital enterprise, it’s a very ambitious project.

“Given the global competitive landscape, you’re adding a new manufacturer which is untested in the car industry and which does not appear to have the same kind of deep pockets as existing local car manufacturers,” he said.

Electric vehicles are increasing in popularity as governments worldwide seek to phase out polluting petrol and diesel cars, but producing them profitably is a major challenge for even leading manufacturers.

While Tesla has strong consumer appeal, investors have been frustrated by the pace of production and the company’s ability to hit its financial targets.

Despite dumping the project, Dyson insisted the company would continue a $3.1 billion investment program in new technology, including the manufacture of batteries, robotics, machine learning and AI.

The company in May completed the move of its headquarters to Singapore, where many international firms have their Asian bases, and Dyson has since made headlines by going on a property-buying spree.


France wants end to US-Europe trade spat

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat
Updated 54 min 49 sec ago

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat
  • All eyes on President-elect Biden to resolve disputes between partners

PARIS: The EU and the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden should suspend a trade dispute to give themselves time to find common ground, France’s foreign minister said in remarks published on Sunday.

“The issue that’s poisoning everyone is that of the price escalation and taxes on steel, digital technology and Airbus,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told Le Journal du Dimanche in an interview.

He said he hoped the sides could find a way to settle the dispute. “It may take time, but in the meantime, we can always order a moratorium,” he added.

At the end of December the US moved to boost tariffs on French and German aircraft parts in the Boeing-Airbus subsidy dispute, but the bloc decided to hold off on retaliation for now.

The EU is planning to present a World Trade Organization (WTO) reform proposal in February and is willing to consider reforms to restrain the judicial authority of the WTO’s dispute-settlement body.

The US has for years complained that the WTO Appellate Body makes unjustified new trade rules in its decisions and has blocked the appointment of new judges to stop this, rendering the body inoperable.

The Trump administration, which leaves office on Wednesday, had threatened to impose tariffs on French cosmetics, handbags and other goods in retaliation for France’s digital services tax, which it said discriminated against US tech firms.

Overturning decades of free trade consensus was a central part of Trump’s “America First” agenda. In 2018, declaring that “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” he shocked allies by imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from most of the world.

While Trump later dropped tariffs against Australia, Japan, Brazil and South Korea in return for concessions, he kept them in place against more than $7 billion worth of EU metal. The bloc retaliated with tariffs on more than $3 billion worth of US goods, from orange juice and blue jeans to Harley Davidson bikes, and took its case to the WTO.

While Biden promises to be more predictable than Trump, he is not expected to lift the steel tariffs immediately. Even if he wants to, he could run into reluctance from producers in “rust belt” states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania that secured his election win.

Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of trade think tank ECIPE, said the US was unlikely to award Europe a “free pass,” noting that countries that had offered concessions to have their tariffs lifted could complain if Europe won better treatment.

Resolving future trade disputes could become easier, if Biden reverses Trump policy that paralyzed the WTO by blocking the appointment of judges to its appellate body.