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.


Lebanon’s new finance minister to meet IMF official

Lebanon’s new Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni met with IMF Alternative Executive Director Sami Geadah in Beirut on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 26 January 2020

Lebanon’s new finance minister to meet IMF official

  • Beirut could be forced to increase VAT and cut welfare if aided by the IMF

BEIRUT: The new finance minister of debt-saddled Lebanon said he would meet with a senior official from the International Monetary Fund on Saturday for a “courtesy visit” and not bailout talks. Ghazi Wazni’s meeting with IMF Alternative Executive Director Sami Geadah comes as Lebanon grapples with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
It follows a meeting on Friday between Wazni and a delegation from the World Bank led by its regional director Saroj Kumar Jha.
“It is a courtesy visit which aims to get to know the IMF team,” Wazni said.
“The discussions will not focus on an economic rescue plan, which is being prepared (separately) inside government,” he added.
Wazni assumed the post of finance minister on Tuesday with the formation of a long-awaited cabinet that faces huge economic and political challenges.
The previous government resigned on Oct. 29, two weeks into a protest movement demanding the removal of politicians deemed incompetent and corrupt.
Wazni comes into the post at a time when the plummeting Lebanon pound has lost over one-third of its value against the dollar in the parallel market.
Lebanese banks are tightening restrictions on dollar transactions amid a liquidity crunch.

BACKGROUND

Lebanon’s previous government resigned on Oct. 29, two weeks into a nationwide protest movement demanding the removal of politicians deemed incompetent and corrupt.

The economic downturn has raised questions over whether Lebanon will turn to the IMF for a bailout — an option the government has yet to comment on but which some officials regard as inevitable.
Last month, former prime minister Saad Hariri discussed a possible economic rescue plan with the heads of the IMF and the World Bank, further fueling speculation of a bailout.
If Lebanon does turn to the IMF it may have to increase its value-added tax, slash subsidies to the state-owned electricity company, tackle rampant corruption and enact a raft of structural reforms, according to previous IMF recommendations.