Sir James Dyson, the UK’s best known technology guru and inventor, was in the news recently, after he announced that he would move his headquarters from the UK to Singapore.
Sir James, a prominent Brexit supporter, was roundly criticised for ‘betraying Britain,’ and he was forced to hit back in a number of articles in the mainstream media, including the Daily Telegraph, where he spelled out his reasons for the move (tax breaks for innovation are a whole heap better in Singapore than in the UK).
As well as explaining why his new HQ is to be Singapore, Sir James also gave more details about his key aim: to design and build what he called a meaningfully different electric car, powered by solid-state batteries. He said the impetus to create the car came about because vehicle manufacturers had pooh-poohed his ideas for emission-reducing exhausts in the 1990’s. The electric car has been in the company’s plans for twenty years, though development only began in 2016.
His aim is to have a car on the road by 2021, coincidentally the same date that the government has set for the first self-driving vehicles to be on UK roads. It may be a happy coincidence, but could Dyson’s all-electric vehicle somehow align with the genesis of autonomous vehicles? He did say that he is very keen to establish driverless car testing grounds in the UK and has been asking the government to sell him additional MoD land for some time.
Sir James himself didn’t say anything further about driverless cars per se, but he did note that developing the vehicle is likely to cost £1.5bn, and the battery a further £1bn. He also pointed out that there was no question of Dyson partnering with others. The electric car will be entirely designed by Dyson, manufactured by Dyson and sold by Dyson.
He was adamant that the UK will still have a part to play. The Dyson facility at Hullavington Airfield in Wiltshire, purchased in 2016, employs hundreds of people involved in developing and testing prototypes. He explained: “Over the past years we have invested hundreds of millions in solid state battery development and we are the only people undertaking a project like this in the UK.”
Singapore, however, will be the location for a purpose-built manufacturing facility to build the car and battery.
In a world where it is becoming so much easier to move businesses around, to find the best places for capital investment, skilled workforces and R&D incentives, the lessons for the UK are clear.
If we want the UK the be a global centre of technology excellence, whether for autonomous vehicles, FinTech, InsurTech or any other tech, the government must do more to encourage entrepreneurs to make us their destination of choice.
It’s all very well us buying electric cars in the UK, but the real economic value comes from making them here in the first place.