Dyson, the British electronics company, yesterday announced 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.
In an e-mail to employees, inventor James Dyson, who heads the firm, said 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".
Mr Tan Kong Hwee, assistant managing director of Singapore's Economic Development Board (EDB), said last night that as Dyson's decision to not pursue the electric vehicle business was taken at an early stage, the disruption to its operations and workforce in Singapore would be minimal. He also said Singapore will play an important role in Dyson's growth plans.
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.
Yesterday, Mr Dyson said he has been "through a serious process to find a buyer for the project which has, unfortunately, been unsuc-cessful 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 said.
INVESTMENTS TO CONTINUE
Dyson will continue its £2.5 billion investment programme into new technology and grow The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology. We will continue to expand at Malmesbury, Hullavington, Singapore and other global locations.
MR JAMES DYSON
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.
"For those who cannot, or do not wish to, find alternative roles, we will support them fairly and with the respect deserved," he said. "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. "Dyson will continue its £2.5 billion investment programme into new technology and grow The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology. We will continue to expand at Malmesbury, Hullavington, Singapore and other global locations.
"We will also concentrate on the task of manufacturing solid state batteries and other fundamental technologies... sensing technologies, vision systems, robotics, machine learning, and AI offers us significant opportunities which we must grab with both hands.
"This is not the first project which has changed direction, and it will not be the last."
Mr Tan 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.
"Singapore will play an important role in Dyson's growth plans. This will lead to the creation of exciting job opportunities in its HQ, R&D and manufacturing teams, and the development of capabilities in sensor technology, vision systems, robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence," he said. "Singapore and Dyson have enjoyed a strong partnership for more than 10 years, and we look forward to building on this partnership."