Is Sir James Dyson Elon Musk’s biggest rival yet in the Electric Revolution?

James Dyson versus Elon Musk: are these the two biggest rivals in the electric revolution?

Throughout history we see how one person can influence millions of people, sometimes for the worse, most of the time for the better.  One person who will surely be known for years to come is Elon Musk.  He is widely credited with making the electric car desirable, and adding a little rocket fuel to the electric revolution so desperately needed on our roads.  

Before Tesla burst onto the automotive scene, electric cars sales dawdled along at a tortoise like pace.  Now Tesla’s newest creation the Model 3, amassed pre-orders of around 400,000 when it was announced.  However, will Elon Musk hold on to his king of the electric car crown now James Dyson has announced he is joining the electric vehicle race?  Will it be the creative mind of the entrepreneurial Musk, or will it be the quiet brilliance of engineer Dyson that makes the biggest impact?

Elon Musk has proven business success as a founder of Paypal and isn’t scared to tackle any challenge no matter how big, this can be seen in Musk’s latest dream for his company SpaceX.  Musk believes he can create a rocket capable of taking you anywhere on Earth in under an hour, and many believe he will do it.  

However, in the case of Tesla there seems to be a stream of bad news.  Tesla has repeatedly missed production deadlines, the latest being those for the Tesla Model 3.  Only 260 vehicles have been produced during Q3 of 2017, when 1,500 were scheduled to be completed in September alone.  More serious than late orders, is the sad news that some drivers have lost their lives using Tesla’s autopilot technology.  Yet still, the passion and belief Musk has in his products, along with his desire to solve a worldwide problem, means despite the bad news, support for the future Tesla creates a glimpse of, never waivers.  The only thing left for Tesla to do is reliably deliver, before customers tire of waiting.   

Tesla has shown it is not only the well-established, leading car manufacturers who can lead the charge with new products, leaving the door wide open for any company can give it a go.  If a new company were to create an equally exciting electric car as a Tesla, and reliably deliver these to customers, Tesla’s manufacturing weakness might prove to be their downfall.   

Now, contrast Musk with our own British Inventor, James Dyson.  He shares the same values as Musk, the same desire to change the world, but there many differences between the two which may mean Dyson is the man to change the cars we drive, and steal Tesla’s throne as leader of the electric revolution.

James Dyson began life studying design, then moved into engineering from which he has never left.  You won’t find him commanding an audience from a floodlit stage or surrounded by celebrities, but at his home in Wiltshire.  As an inventor, Dyson’s motivation comes from wanting to make things work better.  He has proven his skill time and time again.  In 1993, the Dyson vacuum cleaner became the latest gadget to have, and all other manufacturers had to quickly match this new bagless technology.  Since then Dyson has reinvented the hand dryer, produced a bladeless fan and a supersonic hair dryer.  All are familiar products, yet they look a little different and use new technology to work in a slightly different way.

Now James Dyson is taking this engineering know how and turning his attention to the electric car.  This may seem a world away from the domestic appliances that have had the Dyson makeover, but Dyson’s interest in reducing pollution created by cars started all the way back in 1998.

Sir James Dyson created a ‘cyclonic exhaust’ for use on diesel cars to reduce harmful emissions when the link between diesel fumes and our health was only just being realised.  However, manufacturers rejected his design and Dyson’s attention moved onto the next project.  The development of an electric car marks a return to his earlier desire to clean up our air and Dyson may have a trick up his sleeve that makes his electric car a little bit different and a lot better than everyone else’s – a new type of battery.  

Currently, the main problem with an electric car is the battery it uses.  So far, lithium ion batteries have been used.  These batteries use a liquid internally to move the electric charge.  This liquid is flammable so cars using this type of battery need to include expensive equipment to make sure it stays cool.  These batteries are expensive to produce and their size and ability to carry charge means there is a limit to the range that can be achieved.  Technology for Lithium ion batteries is always advancing, but currently range cannot compare to that of a petrol or diesel vehicle.

Back in 2015, Dyson created speculation over his plans to work on an electric car when he purchased battery company Saki3 for $90 million.  Dyson’s draw to this company was due to a breakthrough they had achieved in battery technology … the battery Sati3 are developing is a solid-state battery.

The invention of a solid-state battery could be a game changer for electric cars.  Without the liquid charge carrier there is little fire risk.  This means all the expensive equipment needed to keep things cool is not needed and so cost greatly reduces.  A solid electrolyte is also capable of carrying much more energy compared to a Lithium Ion battery.  This means solid state batteries could match the range of a combustion engine.  This breakthrough would put electric cars on a more even playing field as petrol or diesel cars.  The number one barrier to owning an electric car reported by drivers – range anxiety.  If electric cars go just as far as any other car these become a much more realistic alternative.  Furthermore, a solid-state battery would be much more robust and so withstand many more discharging and charging cycles than a Lithium Ion battery.  This will reduce costs making an electric car more financially appealing.

In his usual understated way, Dyson announced his intention to work on an electric car from a small room above his London shop. We know £2.5 billion of investment is funding the project, which has been active for 2 years involving 400 members of staff.  Dyson has said his electric car will be radically different from any that exist today, with two batteries under development which are already more efficient than those currently on the market.  In a similar strategy to Tesla, Dyson announced his first model will be pricey and high tech, in much the same way we saw the $98,000 Tesla Roadster released first.  Many may think a high value car will deter drivers, but with the popularity of car leasing growing in recent years, ‘expensive’ vehicles are more attainable than ever before.

We don’t know what it looks like or how much it will cost, but if past inventions are anything to go by, James Dyson could lap all other contenders and win the electric vehicle race with the release of his first car in 2020.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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