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Dyson will close its Singapore automotive division as the British company scraps its electric car project

By Wong Chung Wee - on 11 Oct 2019, 11:45am

Dyson will close its Singapore automotive division as the British company scraps its electric car project

This article is contributed by Grace Leong and a version of it first appeared in The Straits Times, an SPH publication, on October 11, 2019.

Electrical appliance giant Dyson announced on Thursday evening (Oct 10) its decision to scrap a £2.5 billion (S$4.3 billion) project to build electric cars. The plans had included its maiden electric car plant running in Singapore by 2021. As Dyson’s decision not to pursue the electric vehicle business was taken at an early stage, the disruption to its operations and workforce in Singapore will be minimal, the Republic’s Economic Development Board (EDB) said in a statement on the same evening.

Inventor James Dyson, founder of the British company that is known for its vacuum cleaners, said in an e-mail to employees that its engineers had developed a “fantastic electric car” and “have been ingenious in their approach”. But despite having “tried very hard throughout the development process”, the electric car could not hit the roads because it was not “commercially viable”.

In September 2017, Mr Dyson announced that he would make an electric car. A year later, he revealed that he would make the car in Singapore. In May this year, the firm kicked off the hiring of automotive design engineers and free trade agreement specialists, among others, for the proposed vehicle plant. In all, there were more than 100 job listings under Dyson, although not all were for automotive roles.

On Thursday, Mr Dyson said he has been “through a serious process to find a buyer for the project which has, unfortunately, been unsuccessful so far”. “I wanted you to hear directly from me that the Dyson board has therefore taken the very difficult decision to propose the closure of our automotive project,” he wrote to employees.

According to the BBC, Mr Dyson said that the company was closing electric car facilities both in the United Kingdom and Singapore. The project employed 500 people in the UK. He maintained that the car project was “not a product failure, or a failure of the team. Their achievements have been immense – given the enormity and complexity of the project”. Mr Dyson added that his company is working to quickly find alternative roles within Dyson for as many of the team as possible, and there are sufficient vacancies to absorb most of the people into its home business.

Mr. Dyson said,

“For those who cannot, or do not wish to, find alternative roles, we will support them fairly and with the respect deserved. This is a challenging time for our colleagues, and I appreciate your understanding and sensitivity as we consult with those who are affected.”

Mr Dyson, who earlier this year decided to relocate the company’s head office to Singapore from the UK, has a net worth of about US$11.9 billion (S$16.4 billion), making him the UK’s second-richest person. The £2.5 billion intended for the electric car project would still be spent on developing other products, including its battery technology, he said in his e-mail on Thursday.

He said Dyson will continue its £2.5 billion investment programme into new technology and grow The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology. It will continue to expand at Malmesbury and Hullavington, which are both in Britain, as well as in Singapore and other global locations. Dyson will also focus on manufacturing solid state batteries and other fundamental technologies that it has identified. These include sensing technologies, vision systems, robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. “This is not the first project which has changed direction, and it will not be the last,” said Mr Dyson, adding that the company will continue to “deepen our roots both in the UK and Singapore”.

Mr Tan Kong Hwee, assistant managing director of EDB, said the Singapore Government understands that Dyson has chosen to focus on growing its core home business, including new product categories, and on the development of its battery technology. He said that Singapore will play an important role in Dyson’s growth plans.

This will lead to the creation of job opportunities in the company’s headquarters, research and development, and manufacturing teams, as well as the development of capabilities in the fundamental technologies that Dyson identified. “Singapore and Dyson have enjoyed a strong partnership for more than 10 years and we look forward to building on this partnership,” he said.

Source: The Straits Times

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