From Vacuum Cleaners to Cars

The coming motoring revolution in electric cars and autonomous vehicles is producing some unlikely aspiring carmakers. Who would have guessed 10 years ago that Google, an internet search engine, and Apple, a computer and smartphone maker would be getting serious about making cars?

Now there’s another unlikely starter on the blocks – Dyson. That’s right –Dyson, the company that manufactures vacuum cleaners that reputedly “never lose suction,” is developing an electric car.

The company itself is remaining tight lipped at this stage but the UK government may have inadvertently spilled the beans on Dyson’s plans. Dyson has definitely received UK government funds for electric vehicle research, though the details are pretty scarce.

It may seem like an unlikely move for a vacuum cleaner maker, but Dyson’s founder, Sir James Dyson, has a strong track record of inventing things. One of them was the Rotork Sea Truck, a high-speed boat like a landing craft that can land vehicles without jetties or harbour facilities.

On top of that, Dyson has a solid track record of developing light and efficient electric motors, charging technology, batteries and energy management software – all vital components of an electric car.

From vacuum cleaners to cars

The company has already bought a battery startup called Sakti3 which manufactures “solid state” technology batteries as part of a five year research effort to develop batteries to store twice the energy of today’s technology.

It will be interesting to see whether Dyson’s technological know-how can overcome the advantages of established carmakers like Volkswagen, GM and Toyota with their enormous marketing power and vehicle making experience. In the current climate of vehicle innovation Tesla’s electric vehicles are clear technological leaders over their traditional rivals, so it would be unwise to simply write-off Dyson’s aspirations in the electric car market. Tesla’s direct sales model that doesn’t rely on a distribution network may be a role model for Dyson as well.

Whether Dyson goes all the way to developing cars itself or simply supplies other carmakers with components is an open question at this stage.

Curiously enough Dyson isn’t the first domestic appliance maker to enter the car market. Back in 1963 Lightburn, an Australian manufacturer of washing machines and cement mixers, introduced the Lightburn Zeta to the Australian car market. The Zeta was underpowered, ugly and distinctly odd. To put it in reverse the driver switched off the engine then started it again backwards, giving it four reverse gears. That was just the start of its eccentricities. After selling just 363 vehicles the company gave up in 1965 and went back to washing machines and cement mixers.

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