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

  • 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.


A Jordan startup delivers eco-friendly alternative to dry cleaning

Updated 05 December 2019

A Jordan startup delivers eco-friendly alternative to dry cleaning

  • Products used by WashyWash are non-carcinogenic and environmentally neutral
  • Amman-based laundry service aims to relocate to a larger facility in mid-2020

AMMAN: A persistent sinus problem prompted a Jordanian entrepreneur to launch an eco-friendly dry-cleaning service that could help end the widespread use of a dangerous chemical.

“Dry cleaning” is somewhat of a misnomer because it is not really dry. It is true that no water is involved in the process, but the main cleaning agent is perchloroethylene (PERC), a chemical that experts consider likely to cause cancer, as well as brain and nervous system damage.

Kamel Almani, 33, knew little of these dangers when he began suffering from sinus irritation while working as regional sales director at Eon Aligner, a medical equipment startup he co-founded.

The problem would disappear when he went on vacation, so he assumed it was stress related.

However, when Mazen Darwish, a chemical engineer, revealed he wanted to start an eco-laundry and warned about toxic chemicals used in conventional dry cleaning, Almani had an epiphany.

“He began to tell me how PERC affects the respiratory system, and I suddenly realized that it was the suits I wore for work — and which I would get dry cleaned — that were the cause of my sinus problems,” said Almani, co-founder of Amman-based WashyWash.

“That was the eureka moment. We immediately wanted to launch the business.”

WashyWash began operations in early 2018 with five staff, including the three co-founders: Almani, Darwish and Kayed Qunibi. The business now has 19 employees and became cash flow-positive in July this year.

“We’re very happy to achieve that in under two years,” Almani said.

The service uses EcoClean products that are certified as toxin-free, are biodegradable and cause no air, water or soil pollution.

Customers place orders through an app built in-house by the company’s technology team.

WashyWash collects customers’ dirty clothes, and cleans, irons and returns them. Services range from the standard wash-and-fold to specialized dry cleaning for garments and cleaning of carpets, curtains, duvets and leather goods.

“For wet cleaning, we use environmentally friendly detergents that are biodegradable, so the wastewater doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals,” Almani said.

For dry cleaning, WashyWash uses a modified hydrocarbon manufactured by Germany’s Seitz, whose product is non-carcinogenic and environmentally neutral.

A specialized company collects the waste and disposes of it safely.

The company has big ambitions, planning to expand its domestic operations and go international. Its Amman site can process about 1,000 items daily, but WashyWash will relocate to larger premises in mid-2020, which should treble its capacity.

“We’ve built a front-end app, a back-end system and a driver app along with a full facility management system. We plan to franchise that and have received interest from many countries,” Almani said.

“People visiting Amman used our service, loved it, and wanted an opportunity to launch in their countries.”

WashyWash has received financial backing from angel investors and is targeting major European cities initially.

“An eco-friendly, on-demand dry-cleaning app isn’t available worldwide, so good markets might be London, Paris or Frankfurt,” Almani said.

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian
and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.