James Dyson, the British billionaire and inventor best known for his innovative vacuum cleaners, has decided to abandon his effort to build an electric car.
"Though we have tried very hard throughout the development process, we simply can no longer see a way to make it commercially viable," Dyson said in an email to staff. Dyson told employees they had successfully "developed a fantastic car," but the company could not figure out how to make money on it.
Dyson said it had tried to find a buyer for the car division but had not been able to find one.
Dyson’s eponymous company publicly announced its intention to get into the automotive business two years ago, saying it would build a "revolutionary" car. But work on the project had begun in secret as far back as 2015.
James Dyson told Fortune in September that when he first conceived of the electric car, only Tesla seemed to be devoting significant resources to building EVs. "It was a very different sort of environment," he said.
Since then many of the world’s large automotive companies have announced significant investments into EVs, and a host of Chinese EV startups, led by Nio, have begun churning out electric cars. Collectively, these companies are expected to invest more than $300 billion into the field in the next decade. However, EV companies such as Tesla and Nio have been racking up billions in losses, and have had to continually tap the investors for more money just to stay solvent.
Those numbers may have ultimately scared Dyson off. The company had pledged to spend 2.5 billion pounds on the effort, including 1 billion pounds on research aimed at producing a breakthrough in solid state batteries.
Dyson, which made after-tax profits of 656 million pounds last year on sales of 4.4 billion pounds, is a financially-conservative firm. It has only $60 million of debt falling due in the next two years and 368 million pounds in total, according to its most recent financial filings with British business registry Companies House. James Dyson has said he would not take on significant additional debt to finance his car. He also ruled out the possibility of taking the company public. He and his immediate family are the company's sole owners.
Dyson had previously said it hoped to unveil its car in 2020 and have it on the road by the following year. Exactly what type of car it was planning to build is not known, but in May the U.S. Patent Office published three patents Dyson had filed pertaining to one possible design. That car was a large, SUV-style vehicle with a radically raked windscreen and much taller and narrower tires than those found on typical vehicles of that size. James Dyson later told the U.K. motoring magazine Autocar that the tires reduced rolling resistance, helping to extend the car’s range as well as providing more interior space.
The company had said it was getting into the electric vehicle market because the core underlying technologies—electric motors, batteries and a good understanding of both aerodynamics and climate control—were ones it had expertise in from its other products, which include not just vacuum cleaners, but hair dryers and curlers, hand dryers, bladeless fans, air purifiers, and LED lights.
Earlier this year, Dyson moved its headquarters to Singapore from Malmesbury, England, and had more than 500 people working on its EV project, including a number of automotive industry veterans it poached from companies like Aston Martin and Nissan’s Infiniti luxury brand. The company said it would try to place as many of these people in other parts of Dyson as possible, but allowed that there might be job losses.
Dyson also said it would continue its work on battery technology and its electric motors, which it can use in many of its household products.