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James Baggott: Dyson’s switched on in so many ways but electric car may be a dream too far

Time 9:43 am, September 24, 2018

I FIRST came across Dyson when I was about nine years old. Well, I think I was about nine years old – all I know is I was acutely aware that my mother had a very annoying hoovering habit. By annoying, I mean she always seemed to do it when Byker Grove was on and my God I loved those Geordies.

The problem became a lot worse when mother dearest got herself one of those new-fangled ‘bag-less’ hoovers. Oh, the power of its dust-busting was incredible, she would enthuse. And no bags to throw away, either! What joy was this?

As a nine-year-old, I couldn’t quite work out why bags were such a great problem in a hoover. In my pre-pubescent mind, the thought of dust being contained within a handy bag that could then be thrown away conveniently was far more sensible. Of course, I’m lying, I could barely work out how they made Tangtastic sweets so sour when they were covered in sugar, let alone worry about a dusty bag in a hoover.

But enough about hoovering; my point is Dyson. Here was a firm making a product that everyone needed but no-one thought needed improving until they did. Remove the bag, make it have a miniature hurricane in a plastic tube, build it in random shades of yellow and purple and all the mums would want one, and if that meant using it during Byker Grove then so be it.

Fast-forward more years than I care to think about and Dyson is about to enter the world of electric cars. In sleepy Wiltshire, the now-billionaire vacuum-cleaning entrepreneur is done at turning his hand to improving hoovers and fans, as well as hand and hair dryers, and is instead blowing all that hot air at a car market desperate for innovation.

But does Sir James really understand the sheer scale of what lies ahead? He probably does, but surely he must have taken a cursory glance across the pond at how the task of mass-producing electric cars has turned money-moving expert Elon Musk from tech darling into a bile-spewing, Twitter-ranting egotistical maniac. Doesn’t that worry the mild-mannered man from the shires?

We’ve known Dyson has been working on his electric car for a little over a year now, and last month the firm’s plans for a huge test facility at Hullavington Airfield brought the Dyson electric car headlines back into the limelight. That got me thinking again about just what a Dyson car will be like – and, importantly for all of you, how is he going to sell it?

Look back at the man’s innovations and they’ve all been quite revolutionary. Okay, so a hand dryer that you stick your just-washed mitts into then have all the scum of those who haven’t quite washed theirs properly blown on to yours might not seem that appealing now, but when they first came out I know people who visited toilets just to use an Airblade.

Same goes for those hoovers. Mum was certainly pretty happy when she finally got her hands on one of the strangely coloured carpet cleaners, and I’ve seen the look of excitement on people’s faces when they realise they can stick their hands through the middle of a Dyson fan and not get their fingers chopped off.

Dyson is pretty good at taking everyday gadgets and giving them a twist – just enough to make them that little bit better. But can he do it with an electric car? And when even a company such as trillion-dollar monolith Apple has given up with its plan, can he stay the course? What electric cars need are longer ranges, faster charging times and an infrastructure that actually works.

They need plugs that fit in all chargers, they need to be easy to understand and use, and they can’t force users to make the choice between putting the heating on or getting home in the winter.

Dyson has a huge task on his hands – he’s entering a market that’s developing fast, with many mainstream car manufacturers starting to catch up with the likes of Tesla. Look at Jaguar and its radical iPace for proof of that. The first-to-market advantage that Tesla managed to scoop has gone – now it’s a race for mass production, mass adoption and mass sales.

I can’t help but feel Dyson has turned up so late to the party that all the sandwiches have gone crispy around the edges.

And what about sales? People like to touch and feel a new car. What Dyson needs is a partner – an established manufacturer with the infrastructure in place to help with the nitty-gritty. They can let Dyson get on with solving the problems that no-one else seems able to while they deal with selling it.

It’s a fascinating conundrum and one I’m enjoying watching unfold almost as much as PJ and Duncan’s fledgling pop career. Almost.

Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Archive/PA Images

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James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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