Bladeless-fan maker Dyson to build electric cars in Singapore

Dyson said its electric car plant in Singapore will be ready by 2020.
Dyson said its electric car plant in Singapore will be ready by 2020.PHOTOS: DYSON

SINGAPORE - Dyson, the British company known for its bladeless fans and bagless vacuum cleaners, announced on Tuesday (Oct 23) that it will make electric cars at a facility in Singapore.

The plant, at a location which the company declined to reveal when contacted, will be ready by 2020, according to a press statement.

Neither would it say much about the car when contacted, except that it will be electric, and "very different from anything in existence" today.

In its statement, Dyson said the two-storey manufacturing facility will be "a highly sophisticated one, using the latest technologies, including robotics and automation".

Almost a year ago, the company said it had begun working on a battery electric vehicle, due to be launched by 2020.

The company said then it had assembled a team of 400 people and is committed to spending £2 billion (S$3.6 billion) on the project to take on the likes of Tesla and other automotive giants.

It would not say how much of that investment will be for the Singapore plant.

Asked why it was venturing into this highly competitive field and why it thought it could succeed, a Dyson spokesman told The Straits Times last September that the company had actually come up with a diesel particulate filter system in the 1990s.

But the market was not ready for it and the project stopped.

"Now, Dyson has the opportunity to bring all our technologies together into a battery electric vehicle. Rather than filtering emissions at the exhaust pipe, today we have the ability to solve it at the source," he added.

Dyson said on Tuesday that it chose Singapore because of its proximity and access to high-growth markets; ready access to a supply chain of advanced materials and components; and access to highly skilled, dependable labour and advanced manufacturing capability.

Construction of the Singapore plant will begin in December, and it will be completed in 2020.

In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Sir James Dyson, the inventor who founded the company bearing his name, told him that Dyson decided to make its first electric car in Singapore because of its expertise in advanced manufacturing, global and regional connectivity, and the quality of research scientists and engineers. The electric car is expected to launch in 2021. 

The news took some industry players by surprise.

A senior executive with a top German manufacturer said: "There are more than 100 electric carmakers in China, and none of them are traditional car manufacturers. They buy parts from various suppliers and simply assemble them.

"This model is not viable. They are exposed to huge cost risks, and they will not have the expertise to deal with after sales service or safety recalls.

"That does not mean none will succeed. Geely was a refrigerator maker. But that's just one out of how many?"

Another senior executive with a major listed motor company here said: "They have picked the most expensive place on earth to build a car.

"And being a non-car company, they won't have economies of scale - just like Tesla - and when the major car manufacturers start rolling out electric models in a big way, they will not be able to compete."

But Andrew Delios, a professor in the National University of Singapore’s Department of Strategy & Policy, said: “It is not expensive to manufacture in Singapore. For high-value added products with substantial automation, skilled labour and a steady business environment are more important than hourly wage rates.”

Nitin Pangarkar, an associate professor in the same department, said: “Dyson making cars is unusual because cars are far more complex than the usual Dyson products. They lack the brand reputation and the technological expertise, so it’s going to be a big challenge for them.”

Singapore had a car assembling industry back in the 1960s. But all of them closed by the 1980s, when lower-cost locations in the region came up.

But about 15 years ago, the Singapore Government began looking at reviving the industry.

The Economic Development Board explored the possibility with motor giants such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Nissan and General Motors on setting up manufacturing or assembly operations here.

Dyson's history in Singapore began 11 years ago with a small engineering team developing high-speed electric motors.

It employs 1,100 people here and has made more than 50 million motors in Singapore.