Dyson to make electric vehicles and tackle air pollution in £2bn investment

27 Sep 2017

Inventor James Dyson. Image: Dyson

Inventor James Dyson wants to ‘clean up’ the problem of air pollution caused by diesel engines, by creating electric vehicles that don’t necessarily have to suck.

Famous for his vacuum cleaners – and, more recently, robots, fans, heaters, hairdryers and air purifiers – celebrated engineer and inventor James Dyson is expanding into electric vehicles.

That’s right, the novel and powerful cyclone engines that make the vacuum cleaners unique could be put to use sucking in fumes rather than polluting the air like diesel engines.

‘Dyson has begun work on a battery electric vehicle, due to be launched by 2020’

Around 400 engineers have been working since 2015 on a top-secret project to create an entirely Dyson-designed electric vehicle that will go on sale in 2020. However, just like Elon Musk’s Tesla, don’t expect the vehicles to be cheap.

According to James, vehicles had been on his mind for some time and, as early as 1990, he had been developing a prototype in the form of a cyclonic filter, which could be fitted onto a vehicle’s exhaust system to trap particulates.

“By 1993, we had developed several working prototypes and showed an early iteration to British television programme Blue Peter. The team went on to develop a much more sophisticated technology.

“To our chagrin, nobody at the time was interested in employing our diesel exhaust capture system and we stopped the project. The industry said that ‘disposing’ of the collected soot was too much of a problem! Better to breathe it in?”

Air pollution kills

Renowned British inventor James Dyson wants to solve air pollution with a new electric vehicle. Image: Dyson

James said that in the period since then, governments have encouraged the adoption of ‘oxymoronically’ designated ‘clean diesel’ engines through subsidies and grants.

“Major auto manufacturers have circumvented and duped clean air regulations. As a result, developed and developing cities are full of smog-belching cars, lorries and buses. It is a problem that others are ignoring.

“Throughout, it has remained my ambition to find a solution to the global problem of air pollution. Some years ago, observing that automotive firms were not changing their spots, I committed the company to develop new battery technologies. I believed that electrically powered vehicles would solve the vehicle pollution problem.

‘It is our obligation to offer a solution to the world’s largest single environmental risk’

James said that the electric vehicle project brings together all of the innovations the company has made in digital motors and energy storage systems as well as in fluid dynamics and HVAC systems.

“At this moment, we finally have the opportunity to bring all our technologies together into a single product. Rather than filtering emissions at the exhaust pipe, today we have the ability to solve it at the source. So, I wanted you to hear it directly from me: Dyson has begun work on a battery electric vehicle, due to be launched by 2020.

“We’ve started building an exceptional team that combines top Dyson engineers with talented individuals from the automotive industry. The team is already over 400 strong, and we are recruiting aggressively. I’m committed to investing £2bn on this endeavour.

“The project will grow quickly from here but at this stage, we will not release any information. Competition for new technology in the automotive industry is fierce and we must do everything we can to keep the specifics of our vehicle confidential.”

Dyson pointed out that in London, nearly 9,500 people die early each year due to long-term exposure to air pollution, according to a study carried out by researchers at King’s College London.

He said the World Health Organisation reported in 2012 that around 7m people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure.

“It is our obligation to offer a solution to the world’s largest single environmental risk. I look forward to showing you all what I hope will be something quite unique and better, in due course!”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years